Eleven million paper clips in an old wooden train car—what? The Children’s Holocaust Memorial in Whitwell, TN was developed as part of a voluntary after-school program to help middle school students visualize the magnitude of the deaths under Nazi authority between 1939 and 1945. They set a goal of collecting 6 million of something to represent the Jews killed. By the time they were done, they had collected 30 million from people around the world.
But why paper clips? The students learned that Norwegians would wear paperclips as a symbol of their resistance to the Nazi occupiers.
The students were able to obtain an authentic German rail car that transported victims to concentration, labor, and death camps. It now holds 11 million paper clips, each representing a life taken by Nazi forces. Another 11 million are held in a monument honoring the children lost in the holocaust. There are glass-enclosed displays of paper clips and memorabilia at each end of the old wooden train car. Press a button and listen to a recorded message that describes the project and gives you more details about the rail car. The rail car is surrounded by a tall, locked fence, but the gate has information that will allow you to enter the rail car area during visiting hours. There is a long, gradual wooden ramp, so it is all wheelchair accessible. The Whitwell Middle School grounds are home to this memorial, and their library has extensive research materials and over 50,000 letters written by survivors, descendants, liberators, and more.
It is a somber sight but presented well and is teen-family appropriate. It was about a 35-minute drive from our Chattanooga Airbnb to Whitwell. It is easy to find once you are in town. While this wasn’t an emotionally easy or fun place to visit, it was moving and deepened my understanding and I recommend it to others.