Archive for the ‘The Holocaust’ Category

Dear Readers,

After writing more than 70 columns about films, faith and family, I’ve decided to take a break.

I would like to tell you that I am flying to New Zealand for a small part in Peter Jackson’s “The Hobbit.”

But the simple truth is that I have a number of writing projects I would like to complete in the next twelve months. Discontinuing my monthly Reel Life Journeys column will free up the time I need for these new projects.

However, I did not make this decision quickly. Only after much thought and prayer did I see that this was the best road to take at this point in my writing career.

“My writing career”… I like the sound of that. I’ve always wanted to be a writer, and thanks in large part to the interest and support shared by Rick Musacchio and Andy Telli of The Tennessee Register, I have a great start.

Looking back over these past six years of writing this column, I learned a number of important lessons:

~ Writing is hard work. I can remember only a few magical moments when whole paragraphs flowed through my fingertips. For the most part, I wrote my 850-word columns after purposefully sitting down at my laptop many times to write.

The editors asked that I e-mail my column to them on the Tuesday before the newspaper is published on Friday. That means during the previous week I would ponder the column’s topic, what movie to feature and other quotes or song lyrics I could use to illustrate the topic.

The columns I like the most had a rough draft done by Sunday, extra quotes added by Monday and a final edit before e-mailing the text to Andy on Tuesday.

Unfortunately, too many of my columns, either through procrastination, family duties, my daytime job or other diversions (the Chicago Cubs, pizza, Notre Dame football) did not see a rough draft until Monday, some updates on Tuesday and a final edit early Wednesday morning. I know that most newspapers have a hard print deadline and I know it’s best to get things done sooner rather than later. I just hope I didn’t cause too many late nights for the TR staff.

~ Live each day to its fullest. Unless you are Phil Connors, the weatherman reporting from Puxsatawney, Pennsylvania in Groundhog Day, you can never repeat today. As many others have tweeted or posted on Facebook, today is a gift, that’s why it’s called the present.

~ Show respect to everyone. A simple school project of collecting one paper clip for every life lost during the Holocaust continues to teach valuable lessons of respect and tolerance to the students, parents and community of Whitwell, TN Middle School. We should remember that lesson and stop judging people because of their looks, their wealth (or lack thereof) or their religion and show them respect. We would all hope to receive the same.

~ There’s no crying in baseball.

~ Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering. As Master Yoda so eloquently states, fear is often the root of many evils. But when we sing John Michael Talbot’s lyrics “Be not afraid, I go before you always. Come follow me, and I will give you rest,” we know that our God is ever before us, guiding us in love.

~ Even the smallest person can change the course of the future. This theme from The Lord of the Rings is much more than supporting a three-foot, seven-inch hobbit on his quest to destroy the One Ring of Power. One individual, standing upon this rock in space we call Earth, is a minuscule part of the world’s population of 7 billion people. Yet that one individual, by his or her acts of kindness and love for other people, can start a chain reaction that will transform this world into a better place to live. You are just one person, but you have a very important role to play.

~ All you need is love.

~ The richness of life is not found in a large bank account. The first Reel Life Journeys column I wrote centered on the song “If I Were a Rich Man” sung by Tevye in The Fiddler on the Roof. In this column I imagined what I would do if I won the Powerball lottery. I realized that the things I wanted to do most (write, talk to Grandma more often, spend time with family and friends) were things I could do now without the winnings. Carpe diem!

So thank you, dear readers, for your interest and encouragement through the years. It has been a pleasure and an honor to write this monthly column. I may yet show up on these pages again in the future. “God only knows when we will see each other again,” Hodel says to her father Tevye before boarding the train to Siberia. “Then we will leave it in His hands,” he replies.

The von Trapp family said it best in The Sound of Music when they sang: “So long, farewell, auf Wiedersehen, goodbye.”


Christopher Fenoglio is grateful for the loving support of his wife and family, to whom these columns are dedicated.

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Singing in church choirs has given me many opportunities to travel and meet people of different races, colors and creeds.

As a member of the Notre Dame Glee Club, we once traveled by planes, trains, buses and boats to perform concerts in Western Europe. There’s nothing like traveling overseas to give you a new perspective of our own country. But the true value was meeting people with entirely different life experiences.

Sometimes we stayed in peoples’ homes, other times we met the locals after the concerts. We listened to their stories, enjoyed their customs and saw the world from a different point of view.

Their buildings were old, some still scarred by war. Their family histories were deep, some still scarred by oppression and conflict. Many do not enjoy the personal freedoms we take for granted. I could see the differences with my own eyes.

You believe because you can see me. Happy are those who have not seen and yet believe. (John 20:29)

Dachau TowerA memorable stop during this trip was at Dachau, the Nazi’s first concentration camp in Germany. Built to hold 5,000 individuals, Dachau’s barracks during the Holocaust once held more than 30,000 Jewish people. Many did not stay very long.

Today, the mechanical components of the genocide remain the watch tower, the gas chambers, the crematorium. The old foundations of the barracks are now filled with glistening white rocks. Mass graves at Dachau are covered with flowers, memorials and reminders that we should “Never Forget.”

JeffreyIn an old photograph, my college roommate Jeff Rubenstein stands in front of a large plaque written in Hebrew. He said later that visiting Dachau, where so many Jewish people who shared his faith were indiscriminately murdered, made him both sad and angry.

I learned about different faiths because I was there. But for the students of Whitwell Middle School, an extraordinary program teaches them the lessons of tolerance and diversity, even if most of them never leave the hills of rural southeastern Tennessee.

Paper Clips is an award-winning documentary that describes how a school program reached around the world to touch countless communities, people of different faiths and even survivors of the Holocaust.

Principal Linda Hooper said they had a distinct need to teach their students about tolerance and diversity. “Our entire town is only 1,600 people. There are no Jewish people, no Catholics. The school has only five black students and one Hispanic student. (In 1998) we didn’t have a clue what different people were like,” she states.

Assistant principal David Smith and 8th grade teacher Sandra Roberts had a goal: “to teach the students what happens when intolerance reigns and prejudice goes unchecked.” They decided to teach the students about the Holocaust.

During their classroom discussions about the six million Jews killed by the Nazis, one of the students asked “what does six million look like?” They decided to collect six million of some object to better comprehend the number.

After searching for an object small enough to collect, they settled on a paper clip, which was used by Norwegians during World War II as a symbol of unity against Nazi Germany.

So began the campaign to collect six million paperclips, one for each of the victims.

But instead of placing a large order at Wal-Mart, the students wrote letters. They sent letters about their program and asked for a paper clip from famous individuals. They received letters and paper clips from Presidents George Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and entertainers like Tom Hanks, Bill Cosby and Tom Bosley.

The next year, national journalists discovered the program and wrote articles for The Washington Post and the NBC Nightly News. Within the next six weeks, the school was inundated with millions of paper clips.

Most shipments included letters from Holocaust survivors, their family members, even the soldiers who liberated the camps at the end of the war. The authors praised the students for learning the valuable lessons of respect and tolerance. They were pleased to send a paper clip so that the memories of their loved ones could finally rest in peace at Whitwell. The program indeed changed the lives of many students and teachers.

The “Children’s Holocaust Memorial and Paper Clips Project” is open to the public. It is located behind Whitwell Middle School in an authentic German railway car used to transport the victims to the camps.

The lessons of tolerance and diversity are just as important today as any day. We should support efforts to stop the genocide in Darfur. We should celebrate our country’s diversity, not segregate people into separate camps.

Our leaders will do well to remember this lesson. If not, they should visit Whitwell Middle School and learn a few things.

Whether you believe by faith or learn by sight, the path to enlightenment is worth the journey. Our society needs tolerance and respect. The price of ignorance, intolerance and racism is way too high.

First published in the August 10, 2007 issue of The Tennessee Register.
© 2007 Christopher Fenoglio
Purchase from Amazon.com:
> Paper Clips DVD

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