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KHS juniors devoting their time to the "Tabs for Tolerance" project.
By Caroline Downs
The tab on an aluminum pop can is usually tossed in the garbage or recycling bin with the can after a beverage is finished.
But that tab means so much more right now to the Kenmare High School juniors in Stephanie St. Croix’s English class. Those students have devoted themselves to collecting them, setting a goal of 6 million tabs gathered to represent each of the 6 million Jews killed by Nazis before and during World War II.
The idea grew out of a class assignment to read Night by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel. Wiesel wrote the short memoir about his own experiences at the infamous Auschwitz and Buchenwald death camps as a teenager.
“The book makes students realize what a difficult time the Jewish people had,” said St. Croix, “and we discussed how Elie Wiesel could go on to have the kind of life that he does. It’s unreal how he could ever function in life after what he went through.”
She continued, “My students enjoy the book every year. It’s one of those novels they never forget.”
“The book opened our eyes to how hard they had it,” explained Taylor Eckleberry. “We don’t want that to happen again.”
St. Croix extended the study of the book by showing students a documentary filmed when Wiesel returned to Auschwitz with television personality Oprah Winfrey.
The KHS students also watched the documentary “Paper Clips” about a school in ---, Tennessee, where a class studied World War II history and started collecting paper clips after reading about how citizens in Norway wore a paper clip attached to their clothing to show sympathy for the Jewish people.
Those students set a goal to gather 6 million paper clips to honor the Jewish victims. The project attracted attention around the world and grew to include one of the railcars used to transport Jewish and other prisoners to the concentration camps. Now, that railcar is parked in a tranquil Southern setting and houses a memorial for the paper clips and stories shared by Holocaust survivors and their descendants.
“Paper Clips” inspired the Kenmare juniors. “On the first day after we watched it, we handed out paper clips and wore them throughout the week,” said Elliot Rasmussen.
A few other students asked about the paper clips worn by their friends, but members of St. Croix’s class weren’t satisfied by the gesture. They wanted to do more, something similar to the students in Tennessee.
“I was telling my mom about the project and we were brainstorming ideas,” said Kayla Halverson.
“And Codee [Gilbertson] said we should do this,” added Katie Nelson as she held up a string of several hundred pop tabs.
“Each tab represents a person,” Gilbertson explained. “Six million is a big number, and it’s hard to grasp just how big of a number.”
The KHS students want to collect 6 million tabs, but they’re realistic about the amount of time it will take. “This may have to be an ongoing project,” said St. Croix.
The students named their project “Tabs for Tolerance” and set collection buckets out in businesses around the community as well as the school’s business office. St. Croix allows one or two days in class each week to work on the project, with the students divided into committees to handle advertising, collecting and counting the tabs.
With the current tab count in the tens of thousands, the students were working on a way to display the tabs by stringing them and making letters to hang on a wall in the school. “We want it to say ‘We shall never forget,’” Gilbertson said.
Shelby Kittleson decided to design a T-shirt for her classmates in honor of the project. “We can wear them every Friday,” she said, which is one of the days designated for counting and organizing tabs each week.
Kittleson chose the Jimi Hendrix quote “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace” to print on the backs of the shirts. “After I saw it, I felt it was a perfect quote for our project,” said St. Croix.
The junior intend to raise awareness about the Holocaust and the devastating effects of hatred and discrimination, and they would appreciate contributions of the aluminum tabs. “People should donate their tabs and read the book,” said McKenzie Chrest.
She wasn’t entirely joking about reading the book. The juniors agreed the story left them with vivid images and feelings about Wiesel’s experiences.
“I think about how hard it would be for him to be separated from his parents,” Gilbertson said.
“When they heard the sound of the bombs [from Allied Forces as they invaded Germany], they were happy,” said Nelson. “They weren’t afraid of death. They couldn’t suffer any more.”
St. Croix said she struggled with the facts about the death of Wiesel’s father, so close to the time of liberation from the camp.
“What I think about is how after a while, nobody mourned anyone’s death,” said Chrest.
“They were numb,” added Bridgette Fragoso.
Will Bennett said the book taught him to never give up, and that’s the approach the students are taking with the Tabs for Tolerance project.
Persons interested in donating aluminum can tabs toward the KHS Tabs for Tolerance awareness project are welcome to leave those tabs at the high school or to contact St. Croix by calling 701-385-4996 during school hours.