Oct 072007
Authors: Cece Wildeman

The Committee for Eracism has been working for seven years to erase racism in the Fort Collins community. Every year, they plan four weeks of films regarding racism to be viewed at the Fort Collins Public Library and Avo’s restaurant.

“We are trying to erase racism and raise awareness because there is bigotry and racism in Fort Collins,” said Margi Williams, co-chairman of the Committee for Eracism.

Sunday night at the Public Library, the Committee showed the film “Paperclips.” The film is about a middle school in a small town in Tennessee that started a project to collect six million paperclips to show how many people were executed during the Holocaust.

The principal and assistant principal of the school came up with this project because they wanted to do something that would teach the middle school students tolerance and diversity, which they said they did not have much of in their town.

When the students were taught about the Holocaust, they decided to collect something that would indicate to them the magnitude of the event. After doing some research they found that paperclips were invented in Norway and were worn on the collars of Norwegians to represent the Jews in the Holocaust. This inspired the students to collect paperclips.

The students began to write letters to the President, past presidents and celebrities, but the project did not really take off until the Washington Post got wind of it. This made it national, and eventually international, news and paperclips began flowing in from all over the world, as well as letters to the students. They received 25,000 pieces of mail, enough to fill a 3-inch binder every two days.

After the town invited Holocaust survivors to speak, Linda Hooper, the principal, decided to include a memorial as part of the project. The memorial would be a rail car from the Holocaust era that would house the paperclips that the students had collected.

“There has to be a far greater power than the people of Whitwell Middle School in charge of this project, and if not, then tell me how we got this far,” said Hooper.

Peter and Dagmar Schroeder are two American journalists from Germany who became involved in the project early on, and at this point they volunteered to track down the rail car. They wrote letters to everybody and their brother, as Peter said in the film, but people kept telling them that such a car did not exist. They then traveled all over Germany and finally located the car.

The rail car was to serve as a symbol for the Holocaust survivors, and a memorial for those who suffered and perished.

“Symbols make us think. Symbols can change the world. And sometimes symbols are all we have to help us maintain our resolve,” said Mr. Schroeder.

The students collected approximately 29 million paper clips throughout the course of the project and they did their best to include paper clips sent with each package in the memorial. It was decided that 11 million paperclips would be included. Six million represented the number of Jews executed by the Nazi regime and 5 million represented the other people executed, such as gypsies and gay people.

Staff writer Cece Wildeman can be reached at news@collegian.com.

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