Inspired by the students of a small middle school in Whitwell, Tenn., who collected 6 million paper clips to illustrate the enormity of the number of Jews murdered in the Holocaust, Roger Smith, ever practical, thought pennies might be a better fit for Pittsburgh.
“It made more sense to me to raise 6 million pennies, because it has the more practical consequence of raising money to give to some worthwhile organizations,” said Smith, a volunteer of the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
And so, Allegheny, Lawrence and Mercer counties will join together this winter and spring to collect 6 million pennies — $60,000 — which will be displayed at the Andy Warhol Museum the weekend of April 26-27, coinciding with Yom HaShoah. The money will then be donated to the U. S. Holocaust Museum, the Ghetto Fighters’ Home Museum in Israel and the Center for Genocide Studies at the University of Minnesota.
The project is sponsored by the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio, in cooperation with the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh, and was announced at a press conference at the Andy Warhol Museum on Monday, Jan. 27, held by those organizations in commemoration of United Nations Holocaust Remembrance Day.
January 27 marks the date when Auschwitz-Birkenau was liberated by Allied forces.
To collect the pennies, decorated donation boxes will be placed throughout the region, with the intention of getting as many people as possible to participate. Each box will hold $25 worth of pennies.
“We will be sending these boxes to everyone,” Smith said, including professional offices and places of business. “We want to saturate the community with this effort.”
Once filled, the boxes will be stacked on columns in the lobby of the Warhol, 22 feet high.
“I think the visual image of the boxes on the columns will be fairly dramatic,” Smith said.
It is Smith’s intention for other communities and organizations in the region to engage in 6 million pennies campaigns in years to come to provide an ongoing source of income for the Holocaust Center.
Smith, who is not Jewish, is an advisor to the Smith Fund, which provided the funding for “Lest We Forget,” a mixed media exhibit aimed to remember the victims of the Holocaust that has been displayed throughout schools in Lawrence and Mercer counties. Some 3,000 students have viewed the exhibit so far, and Smith plans to bring it to Allegheny County schools as well. In April, the exhibit will be donated to the Holocaust Center, he said.
In addition to housing the 6 million pennies display, the Warhol Museum will be the site of additional Yom Hashoah activities, including the performance of “Voices of the Holocaust,” a play performed by students and alumni of Westminster College; a display of “Lest We Forget”; and the exhibit “William Vegh: Holocaust Survivor.” A day of commemorative activities for teenagers will also be held at the Warhol that weekend, according to Joy Braunstein, executive director of the Holocaust Center of Greater Pittsburgh.
The Warhol’s participation in the project reflects the values of its namesake, said Donald Warhola, Andy Warhol’s nephew.
“Throughout his career, when the opportunity presented itself,” Warhola said, “my uncle was willing to use his art to take on a cause, create dialogue, and bring awareness to some of the social injustices that have existed in our world.”
The importance of educating the region’s students on the horrors of the Holocaust was reiterated throughout the morning by several politicians and educators.
“Obviously, this is something we can never allow people to forget,” said Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald, who presented a proclamation proclaiming Jan. 27, 2014, as Holocaust Remembrance Day in Allegheny County. “It’s important for young people that they’re made aware of its significance and how we and future generations make sure that nothing like that ever happens again.”
One aim of the plethora of community Holocaust activities planned for the next few months is to raise awareness among high school students, whose ignorance about the Holocaust is “appallingly widespread,” said Larry Haynes, executive director of the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.
(Toby Tabachnick can be reached at email@example.com.)