As a nineteen year old I stood in Anne Frank's attic on a beautiful sunny day, amidst the bustle and colour of Amsterdam, and tried to see through her eyes, with the words of her diary playing inside my head. It was a humbling experience, a sense of invasion almost, to be standing there as a tourist, on the very floorboards upon which the boots of German soldiers would have crashed and thundered, ripped in to the heart of that secret place - the unimaginable sense of terror Anne and her family would have endured on being discovered. That I could be in the same place, in a different time, and be a world apart from what happened.
In my late 30's in Washington DC, I clutched the passport-like ticket handed to me on admission to the Holocaust Memorial Museum. These tickets contain the true story of someone who went through the Holocaust of WW2, a life you then follow as the museum progresses through the war in chronological order. Several years after I visited, I can still clearly see the great heap of shoes, the different shapes and sizes, the inherent shape of each wearer, the intimacy of seeing these piled together, almost like body parts. Then finally, to stand inside one of the train cars that transported these human beings in such an inhumane way, to die such an inhumane death. The echoing silence of their ghostly presence.
It is hard to comprehend, and even harder to explain to children, man's inhumanity to man. Most of all to those innocents, throughout history, continually caught up in the crossfire. What can we do, as individuals, to grapple with and unravel the nonsensical drive to inflict pain on others in the name of power? All that remains in the face of such aggression, are thoughts, words, and small acts of resistance.
There is a beautiful story of a class of school children in a small community in Tennessee. In 1998, they began a project to study the Holocaust, as a way to explore tolerance and diversity. Their research led them to discover that, during WW2, Norwegians wore a paperclip as a silent protest and symbol of resistance. What followed next is the incredibly moving story of how these children, their school and community, reached out to try and comprehend the enormity of the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, and how the world reacted. Check out the project One Clip at a Time here. And if you haven't seen the documentary, Paper Clip, it is truly worth seeing.
These children clearly hit upon a very simple, yet significant concept similar to one exhorted by Ai WeiWei – currently collecting lego donations from around the world, to build a political artwork – quoted as saying:
A small act is worth a million thoughts
Monday ~ our Monday Features Editor, Julie, reveals some fascinating facts behind three independent booksellers
Tuesday ~ Nick goes all NaNoWriMo in support of all you courageous participants
Wednesday ~ this month's debut, brought to you by Nicky Schmidt, is Abbie Rushton
Thursday ~ Jan gives us a tantalising tease...can you guess who the Hook Finalists are?
Saturday ~ Charlotte celebrates Elizabeth Wein's Carnegie Nomination for Black Dove, White Raven
Nancy Saunders is the Editor of W&P. You can find some of her short stories here, and on Twitter @nancyesaunders