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Stamp Collecting For
A Special Purpose

by Madonna Dries Christensen

          Ask a toddler his age and he’ll likely hold up three, four, five fingers. Show him a dozen eggs and he’ll count to twelve. There are 17 children in his classroom, and 48 colors in his Crayola box.   

          But how does a child, or an adult, comprehend a million?

          In 2009, Charlotte Sheer, a teacher at Foxborough Regional Charter School in Massachusetts, devised a project that had students begin collecting postage stamps—eleven million stamps, to be exact.  

          Sheer says, “The Holocaust Stamps Project began as an enrichment activity in my Fifth Grade English classes. One of the books I read with the children was Number the Stars, by Lois Lowry. The historical fiction is set in 1943 Denmark, a time when an increasing Nazi presence brought soldiers to the streets, food shortages, and “relocation” of Jewish citizens. Discussion of the facts on which the author based her story generated students’ questions related to why the Nazis’ actions were allowed to happen.”

          Sheer presented a film, The Paperclips Project, a Holocaust education program at a school in Tennessee. To better understand the enormity of six million Jewish people having died, Eighth Graders collected that many paperclips after research led them to the Norwegians having worn a paperclip as a sign of Resistance.

          Sheer added, “The next day, my students brought Stars of David shapes, paperclip necklaces and bracelets, and they wore paperclips on their shirts. They asked to replicate the project. I was eager to help them get a sense of how unfathomable the number of Holocaust deaths was. In our culturally diverse school, every classroom is comprised of children from many ethnicities, as well as some dealing with physical, intellectual, or emotional challenges.”

          They learned that not only six million European Jews were targeted; the Nazis sought anyone who was not Aryan (white-skinned with blue eyes and blond hair), the elderly, the feeble, and those with special education needs. Five million people were killed for being different, or for protesting Nazi cruelty. One and a half million of those who died were children.  

          With that total number in mind—11 million—Sheer suggested collecting postage stamps. The symbolism of tossing a stamp into the trash after its face value was cancelled due to its use seemed a metaphor for Adolf Hitler discarding human beings as having no value. By the end of that school year, the first group of Fifth Grade students had collected, trimmed, and counted almost 25,000 stamps. They thought they were almost done.

          The project continued, schoolwide and with outside volunteers, including Sheer’s elderly parents. Year by year, as word spread, stamps arrived from across the country and around the world, including a packet from Poland containing 598 stamps (plus six on the envelope) in honor of a 95-year-old woman who survived a concentration camp and still speaks about it at schools. Eight years later, in September 2017, the number of stamps totaled 11,011,969.

          I urge you to spend time on the HSP Facebook page viewing stories, photos, letters, and artwork. The art is created entirely from stamps. In the photograph here, each figure represents an individual, with the shoe in the middle duplicating an actual shoe found in a concentration camp.

          Although Sheer is now retired, she’s still involved in the project led by Mrs. Jamie Droste. No more stamps are needed but the work continues.  The next step is finding a permanent venue for the collection of artwork, letters, photos, and documentation, and to obtain financial support to ready the artwork to museum conservation standards. The HSP welcomes contact from museums, universities, and Holocaust centers which might be interested in adopting the exhibit.

Direct questions to Jean: outreach@foxboroughcs.org

Website: http://www.foxboroughrcs.org/students-families/frcs-holocaust-stamp-project  

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/HSPfounder  



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