Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Pink triangle, silver paper clip

Thinking of a Jew in captivity reminds me that Tuesday was Holocaust Memorial Day. I meant to do a post then, but was feeling a bit under the weather so didn't get round to it.

The post I was going to write would have mentioned that the TUC was commemorating the day. In addition to remembering the many trade unionists, Jewish and non-Jewish, who were murdered by the Nazis, this year the TUC is focusing on lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) victims. It's easy, even for those of us who have seen Cabaret, to forget that not every Holocaust victim was targetted because of their race.

Peter Tatchell has a good article on the subject here. (And there is more on the film he was reviewing here.)

Funnily enough, I was thinking about the non-Jewish Holocaust victims last weekend. I'd been watching the excellent film documentary Paper Clips on TV. In short, as part of a diversity project (much-needed in a community almost wholly WASP) the students in 8th grade at Whitwell Middle School, VA, were studying the Holocaust. Someone asked how big six million was, and out of the discussion came a sub-project: to collect six million paper clips. Why paper clips? Well, they were invented in Norway and worn during WW2 as an unobtrusive badge of opposition to the Nazi occupiers. And six million aren't too unmanageable. So they wrote to famous people asking for paper clips. Read more here.

I found the film extremely moving, and inspiring in all kinds of ways. I've been banging on about it to friends and family ever since. One of the pupils involved, after the first visit by a Holocaust survivor to their school, said she was amazed to discover that there were people in the world who had never known their grandparents. That's what it means to be in small-town, rural Virginia. It's not cliches about inbreeding or dumb yokels: it's communities so close that (a) everyone knows their grandparents and (b) nobody knows anyone who doesn't.

By the time the kids came to fill their railcar (they got hold of a cattle car once used for transporting people to the camps, for use as a permanent memorial) they had 29 million paperclips. They decided to use 11 million in the railcar: six million for the Jews, and five million for the Gypsies, homosexuals, Jehovah's Witnesses, communists and so on. When the film reached that point, having up to then been concentrating wholly on the Jewish component of the Holocaust, I must confess I actually cheered. Because hardly any discussion of the Holocaust, anywhere, goes beyond the six million Jews: I suspect coming to terms with six million murders is hard enough, but eleven? Yet these isolated rural kids, who had started out never having seen a Jew or a German (or for that matter a gypsy, and probably not many gays or communists either) were remembering what, as Peter Tatchell says, most histories of the Holocaust choose to forget.


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