Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Work to 'Keep Tabs on Humanity' It Took 17 Years to Collect 6 Million Pop Tabs That Form a Squirrel Hill Memorial to Victims of the Holocaust

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

A Work to 'Keep Tabs on Humanity' It Took 17 Years to Collect 6 Million Pop Tabs That Form a Squirrel Hill Memorial to Victims of the Holocaust

Article excerpt

At first, it was just a simple way to study a staggering statistic.

Searching for a means to give both his students and himself a way to come to grips with the 6 million Jews killed by Germany's Nazi regime and its collaborators between 1933 and 1945, Bill Walter, a middle school social studies teacher at Community Day School in Squirrel Hill, borrowed an idea from a school in Illinois.

Starting in 1996, Mr. Walter's students began collecting pop tabs from cans, one for each of the victims of the Holocaust, the systematic genocide of European Jews. The Nazis also killed hundreds of thousands of others judged inferior, including Poles, Roma, Slavs, the disabled and homosexuals.

"The pop tabs each represent a human being discarded and tossed aside without a second thought," Mr. Walter said.

In a month, they had collected nearly 25,000 and Mr. Walter thought the project was moving along well until some quick math revealed it would be two decades before they had enough at that pace.

So the endeavor blossomed into a schoolwide project at the private, pre-K-through-eighth-grade Jewish school and soon tabs were pouring in from around the world.

In 4 1/2 years, the 6 million mark had been reached and the tabs were sorted into about 150 aquariums that sat in Mr. Walter's third- floor classroom for about six years.

"It was enormous. I was worried about the weight crashing down to the second floor," he said.

Those tabs now have a new home in the Gary and Nancy Tuckfelt Keeping Tabs Holocaust Sculpture and park on the Community Day School grounds, the culmination of more than a decade of work by the school's leaders, students, parents and others to be marked in a dedication ceremony at 2:30 p.m. Sunday. Shaped in the form of a Star of David lying flat, the sculpture -- based on a student design -- consists of 960 glass blocks in stainless steel frames, with each block filled with 6,250 tabs to convey the scale of the loss of life. The sculpture stands up to 9 feet high in places and spans 45 feet.

"It's been unbelievably gratifying," said Community Day head of school Avi Baran Munro. "It feels satisfying to have brought it to completion. …

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