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Remembering the Holocaust Victims with Stone and Paper Clips

The Holocaust -- the systematic extermination of Jews in Europe during World War II -- has been commemorated in many ways. There are Holocaust memorials in many countries, but until now, not in Berlin, which was the capital of Nazi Germany. Even with the memorials, there is concern that, over time, people may forget what happened. As VOA's Ernest Leong reports, a German architect and a group of U.S. students are finding creative ways to keep the memory alive.

How to visualize the horrors of the Holocaust, from a German perspective?

A daunting challenge, but an important one, during the 60th anniversary of the end of World War II.

A German-Jewish architect, Peter Eisenman, designed the recently completed Berlin Holocaust Memorial. But as Mr. Eisenman explains, he's aware that what he created won't please everyone. "If it works for me it doesn't mean it works for you. And it's not going to work for everybody."

Despite years of debate over the design, financing and politics of the project, the memorial was just completed, and officially opened to the public Tuesday, May 10. It consists of rows of concrete slabs, 2,711 in total, arranged over land the size of two football fields.

Mr. Eisenman arranged the undulating rows of slabs in this way to evoke the feeling of being trapped, something like what the Jews felt while imprisoned in Nazi death camps.

German Parliamentary President Wolfgang Thierse says, "The discussions about the memorials do not end, but this was the intention of the memorial. The memorial was not meant to be a 'nice' memorial but a memorial to initiate discussions, to reflect and remember."

A world away, in Whitwell, a small in the southeast state of Tennessee, middle school teachers faced a similar dilemma, how to convey the horrors of the Holocaust to their students?

School principal Linda Hooper says her students had little connection to the Holocaust victims. "We're white. We're Anglo-Saxon. We're Protestant. We've got as many churches as we've got dogs."

The students had a hard time visualizing the enormity of six million dead in the Holocaust. They needed a symbol. Again, Ms. Hooper says, "Can we [the students] collect something? I said it has to be small. And it has to be meaningful." They decided on the paper clip, a symbol of opposition to the Nazi regime during World War II.

"Paper Clips" is also the title of the documentary made about the students' project. It started as a quest to collect six million paper clips, one for every Jew killed by the Nazis.

To date, they have gathered 30 million paper clips from all over the world. They are stored just outside the school, in an old German rail car used by the Nazis to transport Jews to concentration camps and donated to the school by Israel. Student Jake White, "There could be anywhere from 80 to 100 people in here at a time. As you can see we only have about 20 in here and it's still crowded."

Once, the death camps were crowded with survivors. The numbers of those still living are dwindling, but the number of ways to remember the Holocaust is still growing.