6 million pennies represent 6 million victims of Holocaust
SUTTON -- So powerful was the impression left by their visit to the Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C., last year that a group of Kearsarge Regional School District students created a project to heighten awareness of the atrocities Nazis committed against European Jews and other victims before and during World War II.
Eleanor Angus and Emmaline Keene of Springfield, Anna Stowell of Sutton, Kaileigh Davis of Newbury and Andrea Cutts of New London were Kearsarge Middle School eighth-graders when they visited the museum last spring. Now freshmen at Kearsarge Regional High School, the girls have since set about collecting 6 million pennies - the figure represents the number of people estimated to have been killed during the Holocaust - in a project they call Everyone Counts.
"It's one thing to see the number 6 million but another thing to see a physical representation. That's a whole other thing," Davis said Tuesday.
The museum has a way of conveying the numbers in a very personal way. A room filled with thousands of shoes of those stripped of everything before being killed in concentration camps. A room four stories tall displaying pictures of an entire village of Jews killed in the Holocaust.
"You look up, and it's heartbreaking," Angus said.
During the museum visit, Kearsarge Middle School teacher Paula Mercier told the girl she had heard of a project in which a group collected 6 million paper clips to represent those killed. But what would you really do with 6 million paper clips?, the girls thought.
"We decided it would be cool if somebody did pennies. So we could take those pennies afterward, cash them in for a check and give them to a charity that needed it," Keene said.
That was the start of the Everyone Counts project.
"We liked the idea of pennies because every one is different," Keene said.
"Some may be brand new and shiny, and some may be old and rusty and totally gross. But they are all different, just like people. And that's something I like about the idea of pennies."
Everyone counts and has value. That, the girls said, is the philosophy behind their project. Each penny is equal and not worth any more or less than another.
Awareness is more important than ever, they said, since Holocaust survivors and witnesses are becoming fewer.
"It's 65 years later. It's hard to find survivors," Mercier said.
A trip to the Warner Fall Foliage Festival to collect pennies brought that home to the girls last year.
"When we were at the Fall Foliage Festival, a man came up to us and said, 'You know, the Holocaust didn't actually happen,'?" Davis said.
"And if we could actually collect 6 million pennies, we could keep the memory there and say this actually did happen. It was a terrible thing in history, and people are still forgetting."
In less than a year, the girls have collected more than 30,000 pennies, or $300 worth.
Achieving their goal would bring in $60,000, which they say they would donate to two or three charities - perhaps a fund to honor Jewish victims of the Holocaust and another that brings attention to other groups who were killed.
"We're trying to represent every type of person who died in the Holocaust," Cutts said.
The Kearsarge students hope to reach their goal of 6 million pennies before their graduation in 2016. In the meantime, they're working on creating a display to hold the remaining million pennies.
"Part of the point of this is keeping the memory," Mercier, the middle-school teacher, said. "But also the other thing I think the girls are trying to achieve is trying to get people to understand and being able to try to get your head around it. What does it mean for 6 million people to be killed over a four-year period?"
Everyone has pennies and can usually spare a few, the girls said. They hope people will search under the couch, dig through their change purse or clean out the change dish in their car and make a contribution to Everyone Counts. The group also is accepting other forms of cash donations and checks.
Donations can be sent to 32 Gile Pond Road, North Sutton, NH, 03260 c/o Paula Mercier/Everyone Counts.
To learn more about the project, visit its Facebook page or website (everyone-counts.webs.com).