Paper Clips

Paper Clips, one of the best documentary films of 2005, was released in a deluxe 2-DVD edition on March 7. Looking for a project that will teach her students about tolerance and diversity, the principal at Whitwell Middle School outside Chattanooga, Tenn., chooses to focus on the Holocaust. The designated teachers take courses, read books, and begin to tell their students about events that occurred before most of their parents were born, when one student asks the profoundly simple question: “What is ‘6 million’?” The students decide to make that abstract number concrete by collecting 6 million paper clips, and thereby initiate a worldwide mitzvah project.

What makes the Holocaust so unique in the history of man’s inhumanity to man? It’s not violence and destruction, which continue to erupt unabated around the world every day, but the cold transformation of people into numbers, their every step recorded on precisely typed-out lists specifying exact date and destination. By film’s end, Whitwell’s paper-clip collection has become the perfect complement to all the paperwork carefully preserved in Holocaust museums. Paper clips—mundane, practical little objects—now serve to connect the past with the future.

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