COLORADO SPRINGS — Today is International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The day was first adopted by the UN General Assembly in 2005, and it marks the anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau in Poland by the Russians on January 27th, 1945.
It was the largest concentration camp complex, with more than 1 million people losing their lives over the course of the concentration camp's operation.
A former local teacher, Sharyn Markus, used days like this to teach students in our community the horrors of the Holocaust. What started out as wearing a paperclip has grown into a campaign that honors those who lived during this painful time.
“The Paperclip Campaign” is a program that is now recognized by federal and state legislators, Holocaust organizations, and students all across the world. Sharyn decided to have her students wear a paper clip during the US Days of Remembrance for the Holocaust, held in the spring.
The clips are not worn on the United Nation’s International Holocaust Remembrance Day, but days like today remind Sharyn of her students' reactions when learning about the Holocaust.
“They were very involved and very appalled in their first experience learning about the Holocaust. They just couldn’t believe how people could treat each other and how this could actually happen,” said Markus, a former District 20 teacher and founder of the Paperclip Campaign.
When looking for class materials, Sharyn did a lot of research on what she could use to honor those who lost their lives during the Holocaust. While some classroom materials are expensive, she discovered the paperclips, something humble, but impactful all the same.
The idea originated in Norway. During World War II, Norwegians wore paperclips to symbolize their strong disagreement with Nazism.
“But everybody could wear a paperclip, it’s so accessible and it has that meaning of binding together. It came from Norway also, because during Holocaust the Norwegians first wore red heads and red vests to symbol, they were against Nazism and Hitler, but they were too obvious and were getting shot for wearing them,” said Markus.
Other schools have since adopted “The Paperclip Campaign.”
A rural school in Tennessee used the campaign to collect six million paperclips, one for each life lost during the Holocaust, which was turned into a Miramax documentary.
Sharyn has impacted the lives of students globally, but she says it's important we continue to use days like today to remember those who have struggled during the Holocaust and to promote respect to one another as a human race.