By Lynette Norris
Greene Publishing, Inc.
At the Sept. 15 Kiwanis Club meeting, President Willy Gamalero announced the installation of new Kiwanis Club Officers along with a formal welcoming of new members. He also spoke about the Chamber of Commerce’s recent shift in focus to sponsor only one major event per year in Madison, in order to allow other civic organizations to take on these special events for the community. It was indeed a great opportunity, said Gamalero, for the Kiwanis Club to step up and be of even more service to the community.
Within the next few weeks, the club will do just that, taking the lead role in the Dec. 10 “Light Up Madison” event, and Gamalero was asking for volunteers to help with the various processes and activities involved. In other service projects, the club will continue with its mentoring projects with Madison school children, another service it has provides for the community.
But what do you do with 24 million paper clips?
That was the basis of the meeting’s presentation, a viewing of the second half of the powerful documentary, “Paper Clips,” the story of the small town of Whitman, Tennessee, and its unique Holocaust memorial.
What started as an effort to help the local school children visualize the millions of people murdered in Nazi prison camps – collecting one paper clip for every person who had died – quickly grew into something far bigger that captured the hearts and minds of people everywhere. Once the national media picked up the story, letters poured in from all over the world, from holocaust survivors sending in paperclips for loved ones they had lost, to people donating boxes of paper clips just to help with the project.
Soon, with over 24 million paper clips on hand, there was the question of how to store and care for the display; when a chance conversation produced the idea of placing them in an actual German railcar that had once transported the doomed prisoners to Nazi prison camps, the idea for the memorial was born.
Such a railcar was eventually found in a German railyard; an ordinary cattle car, manufactured in 1919, its purpose changed in 1933, when it was put to a much different use by the Nazi regime. As many as 100 or more prisoners would be crammed into such cattle cars for transportation to prison camps; many suffocated before they even reached their destination.
A tangible piece of a dark period in history, it was purchased and shipped to America, arriving by a sheer accident of fate at Baltimore Harbor September 9, 2001 – two days before another cataclysmic historical event that would also change the world.
As the Twin Towers fell in New York, a train was quietly winding through the Appalachian Mountains toward Whitman, Tennessee, bearing another piece of history that would stand as a symbol against hatred and intolerance. As one of the townspeople noted, sometimes symbols are all we have to help us keep our resolve.
Four years in the making, the memorial was dedicated Nov. 9, 2001, and the railcar, with its precious cargo of millions of paper clips, representing the souls of Holocaust victims, still awes visitors. The school children of Whitman conduct the tours themselves, changing the world, one class at a time.
Following the presentation, Gamalero addressed the Kiwanis members briefly, saying that changing the world one class at a time could even mean changing the world one person at a time; if even one person does the right thing, what he or she is supposed to do, that too, will eventually make a difference.
A lot of little paper clips sure did.