A nine-year-old school project set up to commemorate people who perished in the Holocaust has surpassed its unlikely goal to collect 11 million stamps – representing the lives of six million Jews and five million other victims of intolerance.

Hours before Kol Nidre earlier this month, community volunteers for the Holocaust Stamp Project at the Foxborough Regional Charter School in Massachusetts for children of kindergarten age up to 12 delivered some 70,000 cancelled stamps to the organisers.

The school’s student life adviser, Jamie Droste, who oversees community service learning for Foxborough, said the delivery brought the total to 11,011,979.

By chance, the goal-setting event took place on a day a television crew was at the school, in a suburb south of Boston, to report on the remarkable project.

The project began nine years ago in the fifth-grade classroom of Charlotte Sheer as a result of her students reading Number the Stars, the award-winning work of historical fiction by Lois Lowry set during the Holocaust. 

Students creating one of the artworks

Students creating one of the artworks

By collecting 11 million stamps one stamp at a time, Sheer envisioned the project as a way to make tangible the incomprehensible magnitude of the genocide.

From its modest beginnings of collecting a few thousand of the tiny scraps of paper, the Holocaust Stamp Project has transformed into an all-volunteer community service component for the school’s high school students.

It has also attracted volunteers from the community who help with the time consuming process of counting and sorting the proceeds of the collections.

Droste, who has directed the project since Sheer’s retirement about five years ago, said it was a way for students to learn about the importance of acceptance, tolerance and respect for diversity.

Over the years, as word of the project spread through reports in the media  locally and in Israel and Germany, stamps have arrived from 47 states and 22 countries including Australia, Canada, the UK, Israel and Ireland.

Girls with a completed collage

Girls with a completed collage

Some, including many from Holocaust survivors or their families, are sent a few at a time while others, including some rare items, have been donated by collectors in batches of thousands.

As part of the project, students have transformed many of the stamps into 11 meticulously crafted and colourful collages whose intricate designs reflect a Holocaust-related theme.

Droste said the goal was to complete 18 collages. Those made so far are being displayed for the community during Holocaust remembrance programmes.

Only a few of the school’s 1,300 students are Jewish, Droste added. The rest come from diverse cultures and backgrounds, with many from immigrant families whose lives are far removed from the events of the Holocaust. Some are from countries that have also experienced war or economic hardships. “The multicultural diversity makes the school strong,” she said.

In today’s political climate, students are aware of the hate in the world, Droste observed.

“This is one lesson that reaches all of them. We need to focus on peace and what is good and never forget the lives of those who were taken because of intolerance,” she said.

The project was recognised during the Yom Hashoah commemoration last spring with an award by the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Boston.

Droste said she is hoping the collages and collection will find a permanent home at an institution or organisation where they can be on display.