Joe Fab interviews Linda Hooper
during the making of PAPER CLIPS.
Photo credit = One Clip At A Time HMA


Two New
about the Holocaust
Teach Us to Embrace
“the Other”

Holocaust remembrance is at a critical juncture. As world leaders commemorate the 60th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz this month, the era of memory is ending and the burden has shifted. So Eva Hoffman tells us in her eloquent new book AFTER SUCH KNOWLEDGE: MEMORY, HISTORY, AND THE LEGACY OF THE HOLOCAUST (PublicAffairsTM, 2004). Two new documentaries, PAPER CLIPS and HIDING & SEEKING: FAITH AND TOLERANCE AFTER THE HOLOCAUST, address Hoffman’s most critical question: how do we explain the Holocaust to future generations?

Both films have achieved acclaim in a year that saw the release of an extraordinary number of important documentaries. Both films were made after 9/11, when the questions posed by the Holocaust had become “old news” in the minds of many in the intelligentsia. And both films zero in on the image of a smart and serious dark-haired girl, subliminally evoking Anne Frank, as a witness to the ongoing story. But there the similarities end, for while PAPER CLIPS is smooth and polished, HIDING & SEEKING is raw and urgent.

PAPER CLIPS is set in Whitwell, Tennessee, a small Appalachian town outside Chattanooga. Looking for a project to teach her students about tolerance and diversity, the principal at the Whitwell Middle School decides to focus on the Holocaust, something completely foreign to the overwhelmingly white Protestant members of her community. The designated teachers take courses, read books, and begin to tell their students about events that occurred before most of their parents were born, when one student asks the profoundly simple question: “What is ‘six million’?”

PAPER CLIPS was selected as one of the five
Best Documentaries of 2004 by the National Board of Review.
Photo credit = One Clip At A Time HMA

This was 1998, when the internet was already a force in our lives and many of us routinely received e-messages from students asking us to forward their message on to our friends so they could map all the places in the world chained to their first request. So the principal, Linda Hooper, suggests something very similar: Let’s send letters and e-messages to people we know asking them to send us paper clips, and let’s see if we can collect six million paper clips. Much to their own astonishment, by film’s end the students have collected over twenty-nine million paper clips!

The potential for kitsch in a story so simple and obviously heart-warming is ever-present, and indeed, the opening scenes, with images of bucolic innocence set to down-home folk music, provoke a skeptical response. But paper clips turn out to have been an inspired choice. What is it that makes the Holocaust so unique in the history of man’s inhumanity to man? It’s not violence and destruction, which continue to erupt unabated around the world, but the cold transformation of people into numbers: individuals forced into ghettos and then herded onto trains and then incinerated in crematoria, with every step recorded on precisely typed-out lists specifying exact date and destination.

Paper clips are the perfect complement to all the paperwork now carefully preserved in Holocaust museums. As envelope after envelope is processed through the small Whitwell post office, the students also receive letters giving each paper clip – either shiny and silver or covered with brightly-covered plastic – a name, an identity, and people who love it. And when the inevitable bus filled with aged survivors arrives from New York, the children embrace them like treasured grandparents, and the circle is complete. “My name is Joe,” says Joe in a strong Yiddish accent as he holds out his tattooed arm. “I spent three years in Auschwitz and my number is 124105.” Paper clips, mundane, practical little objects, have become the link between past and future.

But as Hoffman reminds us, it’s not only the victims who must be remembered, it is also their rescuers. In the race against time to interview the survivors and prosecute the perpetrators, the rescuers have been all but lost. With so many Jews murdered by the Nazis, showering praise on the few "righteous gentiles" who managed to save one or two seemed not only ludicrous, but insulting to the remnant who escaped. The Cold War mentality also played a role, keeping many of the rescuers imprisoned behind an Iron Curtain of enmity and suspicion. But that wall is also history now, and although most survivors are too old to travel themselves, more and more of their children are searching for answers.

In HIDING & SEEKING, Menachem and Rivka, two children of survivors, take their American-born sons to Poland to find the farm family who shielded Rivka’s father Chaim. Old but still feisty, Chaim does not want them to go. He insists that, even if any of his saviors are still alive, they have long since forgotten all about him. If they do find someone who remembers, what should they say, Menachem asks? “Tell them I’m dead,” replies Chaim, who claims that his life in Poland is so far in the past that he doesn’t even know how to speak the language anymore.

The sons, Tzvi and Akiva, are Hassidic Jews who have made aliyah to Israel and are raising families of their own now in Jerusalem. They agree with Chaim and think Menachem is a fool. But Menachem, concerned about the hate-filled rhetoric promulgated by separatist rabbis, believes with his whole heart that his own family’s story will not be complete without knowledge of the rescuers, their motivation, and their fate.

Menachem finds them, ironically enough, in a rural village that is the Polish equivalent of Whitwell. Once again, the line between good taste and bad is exceedingly fine, and there are some agonizing moments when false steps seem inevitable: too many dogs bark, too many cute little chicks run around the front yard. Honorata Mucha, the daughter of the farmer who sheltered Chaim, is now a hunchbacked old crone. But the more Menachem questions her the more clear her mind becomes, and by the time Menachem hands her his cell phone so that she can converse with Chaim, at home in New York and suddenly in full command of his Polish once again, even skeptical Akiva is in tears.

Pictured from left to right above: Honorata Mucha, Wieslawa Klebek (her daughter), Leah Daum (Menachem's granddaughter) & Menachem Daum (co-Director of HIDING & SEEKING). They are placing flowers on the grave of Mrs. Mucha’s parents, the Polish farm couple who rescued Leah’s great-grandfather Chaim from the Nazis.
Photo Credit: First Run Features

© Jan Lisa Huttner (2/1/05)



Question: What is the lovely song in PAPER CLIPS that plays while the train is making its way from Baltimore Harbor to Whitwell on 9/11/01, & then plays again over the closing credits?

Answer: It’s called JUBILEE. Based on a traditional Appalachian song, JUBILEE has new original lyrics specifically written for PAPER CLIPS by Charlie Barnett and Joe Fab. Alison Krauss performs it on the soundtrack, accompanied by Andrea Zonn and Cheryl White. It was recorded at The Brown Cloud in Nashville, TN. Gary Paczosa was the Engineer & Thomas Johnson was Assistant Engineer. Alison Krauss appeared courtesy of Rounder Records.

The incredibly talented Joe Fab not only co-wrote these lyrics, he also wrote the PAPER CLIPS screenplay & co-directed the film with Elliot Berlin.

Posted below are the lyrics to JUBILEE as well as Joe’s personal recollections, written specifically for FF2 at our request:

The sun came up on Monday morn,
The world was all in flames.
It’s all a mortal man can do
To make it right again. 

Swing and turn, Jubilee.
Live and learn, Jubilee. 

The moon came up, I stood my ground
And swore to not give in,
To never rest and do my best
To rid this world of sin. 

Swing and turn, Jubilee.
Live and learn, Jubilee. 

The one who spoke cried tears of hope
That we might change in time,
And when I looked into her eyes
The fear I saw was mine. 

Swing and turn, Jubilee.
Live and learn, Jubilee. 

The time had come to travel on.
I made my way alone.
My soul will mend at journey’s end.
This road will take me home. 

Swing and turn, Jubilee.
Live and learn, Jubilee.

“I think you have to write the other two verses. Talk to you later!” Click.

That was the message on my voice mail from my always-chipper new friend, composer Charlie Barnett. Not that I minded the task, not at all. I’d actually LIKE to add “lyricist” to the list of things I’ve done. It’s just that I’d never written lyrics before – not seriously, anyway – not lyrics that anybody would ever hear who wasn’t in the bathroom during my shower. And these particular lyrics, we hoped, would be sung by the glorious bluegrass singer Alison Krauss.

I couldn’t say no. Besides, Charlie had already done the heavy lifting on this song – the only music with words in our documentary film PAPER CLIPS. He’d worked magic in response to my request to find an authentic regional song that could become a theme woven through the score he was writing…

It was a Saturday morning a couple of weeks after I’d given him the assignment. My home phone rang and on it was Charlie in the midst of one of his signature fits of enthusiasm: “Listen to this!” I could hear him pounding on his piano – a jaunty square dance called JUBILEE that he’d found in a collection of old public domain standards. It was bouncy and catchy and all dosey-doe and completely wrong.


“No, Charlie, no! How can you think…” “Wait!” he interrupted. “Now listen when I play it s-l-o-w-l-y.” And then his hands made love to the piano keys, and I smiled at the melody that audiences would take with them when they left the theatre, a little musical implant in their minds to help them carry the message of our film out into the world with them.

Although the original JUBILEE had more verses than DAVY CROCKETT none of them fit for us. The chorus, however, was perfect poetry for the dance of life: “Swing and turn, Jubilee. Live and learn, Jubilee.”

What happened after I heard that voice mail message is a fuzzy memory. Charlie had already written two verses that were right on the money:

The sun came up on Monday morn.
The world was all in flame.
It’s all a mortal man can do
To make it right again.

The moon came up. I stood my ground
And swore to not give in,
To never rest and do my best
To rid this world of sin.

His words were wonderfully in sync with the content of PAPER CLIPS, evocative without being at all heavy-handed. Not at all like my first pass – lyrics I can’t print for you here because I can’t find them anymore (honest!). Let’s just say that the reaction to what I first turned out was unanimously negative, and I had to agree.

So here’s the point of even recounting this little tale: the combined experiences of PAPER CLIPS have taught me that whether I am working on a film or writing a lyric, the key is to stay in touch with the essence of the subject, and try to channel that into the medium at hand. No, I’m sure that doesn’t sound like much of a revelation, but for me it has been a tremendous breakthrough in creativity and expression.

I swept my initial dismay aside and dwelt upon one of the first intense moments of filming PAPER CLIPS. I sat opposite Holocaust survivor Rachel Gleitman for close to two hours as she recounted some of her amazing, distressing experiences. My job was mostly to listen, to maintain eye contact, to be her attentive audience. And from that memory came words that included my unspoken reaction to her painful recollections:

The one who spoke cried tears of hope,
That we might change in time.
And as I looked into her eyes
The fear I saw was mine.

I read the words on my laptop screen, and they felt right. The next verse came a bit more easily, as I turned to the railcar that is such a powerful image at the center of our film. Its long trip from a museum in Germany to the schoolyard in rural Tennessee had always seemed both lonely and profound:

The time had come to travel on.
I made my way alone.
My soul will mend at journey’s end.
This road will take me home.

That verse felt right too.

So now, I stand in the dark in the rear of movie theatres all over the country as I travel to festivals and openings, and I hear Alison Krauss sing those words of Charlie’s and mine. And I count the blessings that have flowed my way from being a part of this amazing experience called PAPER CLIPS.

Swing and turn, Jubilee.
Live and learn, Jubilee.

© Joe Fab (2/5/05)


In addition to Joe, of course, FF2 is grateful to Sivan Ilamathi for sending us the JUBILEE lyrics & PAPER CLIPS pictures. Thanks also to Oren Rudavsky, HIDING & SEEKING’s co-director, for helping us spell all the names in the picture caption correctly, & to Judith Mizrachy of First Run Features for helping us connect with Oren & sending us all the jpgs.


For FF2 Articles Thematically-Related to PAPER CLIPS (in which Jan tries to explain what makes the Holocaust unique), see

10th Anniversary Tribute to SCHINDLER’S LIST

For FF2 Articles Thematically-Related to
HIDING & SEEKING (in which Jewish-Americans return to post-Cold War Europe searching for answers), see

The PASSION of William Shakespeare (section on MY GRANDFATHER’S HOUSE)
In ROSENSTRASSE, Ordinary Women Accomplish the Extraordinary


Eva Hoffman
Photo Courtesy of NEXTBOOK

Eva Hoffman will visit Metro Chicago this month, lecturing on 2/17/05 @ 6:00 PM @ the Harold Washington Library Center (Chicago Loop) & 2/17/05 @ 7:30 PM @ the Field Middle School Auditorium (Northbrook) as part of the NEXTBOOK Writers Series.

For More information, follow this link to NEXTBOOK.

"It is only through the efforts of imagination and memory that the shadows can be made to speak," writes Eva Hoffman. Her memoir, LOST IN TRANSLATION follows her journey from Cold War Poland to Canada, and later, Texas, as she grapples with language, identity, and alienation. In her more recent books, SHETL and AFTER SUCH KNOWLEDGE, she examines life before and after the Holocaust, and the complexities of remembrance. A former editor for the NEW YORK REVIEW OF BOOKS, Hoffman currently teaches at MIT.

This article is a slightly expanded version
of the reviews originally published
in the February 2005 edition of the
(Volume 2 Number 5) 
& is posted here with their permission.

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