History of the Paperclip Campaign

The Governor’s Holocaust Remembrance Program As part of the National Days of Remembrance Established by the Congress of the United States Monday, April 29, 2004 – Buell Theatre, Denver

“The Power of a Paper Clip”

During World War II, Norwegians wore paper clips on their lapels as a symbol of opposition to Nazism. This humble item now forms the basis of two remarkable programs, teaching the lessons of the Holocaust to students here in Colorado and in Appalachian Tennessee.

See highlights from the new Miramax Films documentary Paper Clips, the moving story of a rural Tennessee school that set out to collect six million paper clips, one for each Jewish soul lost in the Holocaust.

Hear Sharyn Markus, the founder of the Paper Clip Campaign at Mountain Ridge Middle School in Colorado Springs, tell why thousands of people each year wear paper clips during the Days of Remembrance to demonstrate their opposition to prejudice.

Find out how the simple paper clip is keeping alive the memory of the Holocaust and touching new generations with a heartwarming message of equality and respect.

After April 19th, you’ll never look at a paper clip the same way again.

Simple paper clip serves as eloquent reminder of tragedy

by Rosemary Harris – May 1, 2000 – printed in The Gazette

Thousands of paper clips.

No. Millions of paper clips.

Bold, gold-plated paper clips. Modest, metal wire ones. Flexible clasps meant for so much more than holding sheets of paper together.

Clasps that bind all who oppose prejudice, racism, discrimination, and hate crimes.

That’s what Mountain Ridge Middle School eighth graders T. J., Jake, and Anthony talk about.

They talk about their goal of convincing people all over the United States to wear a paper clip during the week-long observance of Days of Remembrance/Days of Equality, which began Sunday and continues through Friday.

Eleven million Americans, wearing 11 million paper clips, one for each of the estimated 6 million Jews and 5 million Gypsies, dissidents, homosexuals, disabled, and other “undesirables” killed during the Holocaust.

They’re like the ribbons people wear for such causes as breast cancer or AIDS prevention. It’s a symbol: a sign of solidarity.

“What happened should never have happened,” T. J. says.

“But, no matter what anybody says, it did happen,” Anthony continues.

“And if we forget,” Jake adds, “it could happen again.”

Wearing a paper clip this week. In an eighth-grader’s thinking, it’s one way to prevent humanity-breaking history from repeating itself. If there are enough paper clips, enough love, there will be less room for hate.

Simple as that.

“During the war, the Norwegians wore paper clips on their collars to show that they were again Nazism,” T. J. says.

“But Hitler found out what it meant,” Jake continues.

“And he made it a crime to wear one,” Anthony adds.

In Academy District 20, wearing a paper clip has become a tradition for seventh and eighth graders who study the Holocaust through “The Diary of Anne Frank” and other books. The paper clip campaign, a project begun seven years ago by Mountain Ridge media specialist Sharyn Markus, helps them make sense of the senseless – the concentration camps, the gas chambers, the medical experiments.

It’s painful, Markus says. It all happened so long ago. What can you do about it? “Young people need to know that they can change the future, even if they can’t change the past.”

So for weeks, T. J., Jake, Anthony, and 400 other students at Mountain Ridge have been writing letters. Lots of ‘em. Letters to the president, to Congress, to the governor, to celebrities, schools, businesses. “Please join us. Wear a paper clip – in remembrance of the Holocaust; in support of equality.”

It’s an idea that’s caught on.

Since Markus started this, the campaign has been duplicated at dozens of other U. S. schools. She and her students have given more press interviews than anybody can remember. The files show how deeply people are affected by their effort. There are congratulatory letters from Ann Landers, Steven Spielberg, Newt Gingrich – all who promise to wear paper clips every year during the Days of Remembrance commemoration.

Do these students really believe their campaign could prevent another Holocaust?

They do!

Makes ‘em write another letter.

It only takes a spark to get a fire going. That truism applied to the “paperclip campaign” which originated several years ago. From promoting a commemoration of Holocaust victims in her classroom, the campaign has expanded across the nation-and beyond. Several years ago, Sharyn Markus was teaching Language Arts at Timberview Middle School in Colorado Springs, Colorado. During a literature-based unit on the Holocaust, she read a blurb in the Colorado Springs Business Journal. The blurb, entitled “When Wearing a Paperclip Was a Crime,” mentioned that during WWII, Norwegians wore paperclips on their collars as a symbol of being against Nazism.

At the same time, Markus and her students were looking for an inexpensive method to commemorate the Holocaust victims. Therefore, she suggested to her students that they wear paperclips on their collars to honor the Holocaust victims and to state publicly that each person is responsible to ensure that such atrocities do not happen again. Students also were assigned to research the validity of Norwegians wearing paperclips.

The campaign expanded in subsequent years to incorporate the entire student body and then the entire district. By the third year, Markus held a poster contest for an official logo, and Josh Sie designed the logo used today and granted copying rights for her to print the poster for future campaigns. Since students also wanted to send information to their friends at other schools, a letter-writing campaign was initiated. From there, it snowballed.

When she transferred to Mountain Ridge Middle School, she took the “paperclip campaign” with her. By that time, several articles and a feature story were printed in local newspapers and aired on TV stations.

In 1998, Teaching Tolerance magazine ran a small article announcing the commemoration of Holocaust victims by wearing a paperclip. From that article, she heard from schools and organizations around the country. Faith Lapidus of Voice of America interviewed students with the radio broadcast aired in countries around the world. That, too, was the first year they asked people to let them know whether they participated. The poster was also part of the teaching center materials at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum. Up to this point, the campaign had been funded privately. In 1999, Mountain Ridge’s parent organization, PAWS, awarded a grant to fund the campaign. Dr. Lloyd Lewan, former co-owner of Lewan and Associated Office Supplies, also contributed. In the past, Academy School District Twenty paid for the postage. Today, private donations cover the printing and the mailing costs.

Being a Do Something coach, Markus also contacted the national Do Something organization to ask them to incorporate the Paperclip Campaign into their program, which they have done.
Markus said that she is generally pleased with the expansion of the program, although she doesn’t understand why everyone doesn’t endorse it. “I’m such a believer in the value of the message that I’d like to see it become widespread. The beauty of the program lies in its simplicity and affordability, particularly for schools since most secondary schools already teach the lessons of the Holocaust and since the message of tolerance can’t be overstated. I’d like to see schools and communities all across the country participate and, more importantly, to practice tolerance.

Since the campaign would not have been possible without all of her past students, she asked that they be thanked and credited.

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