The Paper Clips Project is a project by middle school students from the small southeastern Tennessee city of Whitwell who created a monument for the Holocaust victims in Nazi Germany. It started in 1998 as a simple 8th-grade project and evolved into one gaining worldwide attention. At last count, over 30 million paper clips had been received. Paper Clips, an award-winning documentary film about the project, was released in 2004 by Miramax Films.
In 1998 Whitwell Middle School principal Linda M. Hooper asked Sandra Roberts to begin a Holocaust Education class that would be the basis for teaching tolerance in a voluntary afterschool program. Sandra Roberts held the first class in the fall of 1998. Soon the students were overwhelmed with the massive scale of the Holocaust and asked Mrs. Hooper if they could collect something to represent the lives that were exterminated during the Holocaust. Mrs. Hooker responded that they could if they could find something that related to the Holocaust or to World War II. Through Internet studies, the students discovered that Johan Vaaler designed a loop of metal, that he was Jewish, Norwegian, and the Norwegians wore them on their lapels during WWII as a silent protest against Nazi policies. The students decided to collect 6,000,000 paper clips to represent the estimated 6,000,000 Jews killed between 1939 and 1945 under the authority of the Nazi government of Adolf Hitler. At first the project went slowly, as it did not gain much publicity. Students created a website and sent out letters to friends, family and celebrities. The project began to snowball after it received attention from Peter and Dagmar Schroeder, journalists who were born in Germany during World War II and who cover the White House for German newspapers. They published some articles as well as a book, Das Büroklammer-Projekt (The Paper Clip Project,) published in September 2000, that promoted the project in Germany. The big break in the US came with an article in the Washington Post on April 7, 2001, written by Dita Smith.
After the article, many more paper clips were being sent. Soon, millions of paper clips started to flood the school.
Almost all observers note the very unexpected location of the project. The small rural town Whitwell has about 1,600 residents, and according to the U.S. census, 97.35% of them are white. There was not a single Jewish person among the population of 425 students when the project began. Out of the 425 students that attend the school, there are only five African Americans and one Hispanic.
About 40 miles away is the Rhea County Courthouse, where, in 1925, a teacher was convicted for teaching evolution during the Scopes "Monkey" Trial. The trial upheld a statute which outlawed teaching any theory that denies the Divine Creation. A hundred miles from Whitwell, in Pulaski, Tennessee, the infamous Ku Klux Klan was reportedly born.
The city is quite poor, as its main business, coal mining, started to decline after an accident 30 years ago; the last mine was shut down completely in 1997. About a half of the students at the Middle School qualify for the free lunch program, which is a benefit for lower income American school children.
At first Principal Hooper was skeptical about the news media attention and the movie, as journalists tended to picture a small, rural and ignorant community. It seemed from their reports to be a "present-day Dogpatch."
Paper clips were chosen in part because some people from Norway wore them on their lapels as a symbol of resistance against Nazi occupation during World War II. (Norwegian Johan Vaaler is often incorrectly credited for inventing paper clips.)
The paper clips were sent by various people by mail; the letters came from about 20 different countries. Some celebrities, like George W. Bush, Bill Clinton, Bill Cosby, Steven Spielberg, Tom Bosley and Tom Hanks were among those mailing in the clips. As of the summer of 2004, the school had collected about 24 million paper clips. As of 2005, many more are still coming in. Most letters contain a personal story or a dedication of the attached paper clips to a certain person. Some of these stories are shared in the film.
The Children's Holocaust Memorial consists of an authentic German transport car (which arrived in Baltimore on September 9, 2001) surrounded by a small garden.The railcar is filled with 11 million paper clips (6 million for murdered Jews and 5 million for Gypsies, Catholics, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, and other groups). The monument was uncovered on the anniversary of the Kristallnacht, November 9, 2001.
Eighteen butterflies sculptured of twisted copper are embedded in concrete around the railcar. Butterflies came from a poem written by a child who lived in Terezin concentration camp in 1942 (I Never Saw Another Butterfly) and the number 18 in Hebrew symbolizes life (in Gematria, 18 is the numerical value of the word חי, pronounced Chai, meaning life). Inside the railcar, besides the paper clips, there are the Schroeders’ book and a suitcase filled with letters of apology to Anne Frank by a class of German schoolchildren.
A sculpture designed by an artist from Ooltewah, Tennessee stands next to the car, memorializing the 1.5 million children murdered by the Nazis, incorporating another 11 million paper clips.
The documentary film about the project was officially released in 2004. Joe Fab of The Johnson Group, who eventually became the producer, director, and writer, initially started to think about making a movie. However, it looked more like a story for a TV magazine. He filmed as several Holocaust survivors from New York visited the school and shared their experiences with the community at a church. Out of this footage, he made a raw seven-minute presentation. This "demo" helped to convince the Miramax film company that this project was worth a full-length movie. It was described as not yet another movie showing the tragedy, but a project of hope and inspiration.
The movie features interviews with students, teachers, Holocaust survivors, and people who sent paper clips. It also shows how the railcar traveled from Germany to Baltimore, and then Whitwell. The creators had accumulated about 150 hours of footage. The movie was shown for the first time in November 2003 in Whitwell.
The movie has received many awards from many film festivals. Some of them include;
In 2006 the Jewish Motorcyclists Alliance and Yidden on Wheels, a Toronto-based Jewish motorcycle club, organized a ride from points across North America to Whitwell, TN to commemorate the Paperclip Project and in honor of the Holocaust's victims. The ride was also a fundraiser for that school, with over $35,000 being raised to help the school buy Promethean boards, a next generation interactive blackboard. 
Mitchell Belman, a Toronto-based filmmaker, captured the essence of this ride in his documentary Paper Clips: A Ride to Remember.