the holocaust on instagram

Social media is a world of connections and possibilities. It’s a world of opportunity and personal growth and education. However, it is certainly and foremost also an ongoing parade of vanities and egos. And, when we’re honest with ourselves, we all have to admit that we enjoy it to a certain extent, the author of this text included.

One of the three largest platforms today is Instagram.

For me personally, Instagram has been the strangest of them all so far. As a visual artist and designer, I feel the need to promote my works there, but feel highly suspicious of this world of followers and influencers at the same time.

The principal dynamic I observe on Instagram is the following: Somehow, by some mysterious hashtag or algorithm, your post appears on my screen. I start following you, not because I think it is so interesting what you have to say, but because I have one interest in mind: I want you to follow me back. And if you don’t follow me back, I will withdraw my liking of your page within minutes or hours.

It took me a little while to understand this form of superficial stupidity, but ultimately that’s how it works. So, while you constantly attract more and more followers over the course of a day, you lose them even faster by not following them back. Naturally, that’s not true for everybody, but it’s a dynamic we particularly find among the youngsters, in their worlds of selfies and make-believe, their dreams of fame and influence, and their hunt for likes and followers. The more, the merrier. Quantity over quality. A distorted reality.


eva stories

One of the Instagram accounts that recently attracted a huge number of followers inside an amazingly short period of time (at the time of this article, it is 1.7 Mio.) is the “Eva-Stories.

“Hi, my name is Eva. This is my page. Follow me,” says the young actress playing Eva Heyman, the 13-year-old protagonist of the story. The clips are based on the chronicles of Eva Heyman, a Hungarian girl from a Jewish family, and are presented in this unique 21st-century style of hashtags, internet lingo, and emojis.

What follows this introduction is a series of about seventy short Instagram stories from the beginning of the chronicle in 1944 until Eva’s death in Auschwitz only a few months later in October.


disposable reality

While a regular Instagram video can’t be longer than one minute, an Instagram story can’t go beyond 15 seconds. Usually, these stories are visible for 24 hours before disappearing into oblivion. Instagram stories are the ultimate expression of our disposable realities.

The Eva project was initiated and founded by Israeli billionaire Mati Kochavi (himself the son of Holocaust survivors) and his daughter Maya. The goal of the project was to work against the fading memories of the Holocaust.

That’s a highly praiseworthy endeavor. However, I am not sure, if praiseworthy in itself is sufficient here to make it right.


the problem

Worldwide surveys have shown worrisome results among students and young people, who said to either not have heard about the Holocaust at all, or were not sure if they had heard of it.

“If we want to bring the memory of the Holocaust to the young generation, we have to bring it to where they are,” said Mati Kochavi. “And they’re on Instagram.”

So far so not good.
Yes, we’re obviously facing a serious education crisis.

What happened that students don’t learn about the Holocaust anymore?
Who’s responsible for this crisis?
What can we do about it?
And, is lowering the Holocaust into the spheres of Instagram really the right path to reach our youngsters?

I personally refuse to believe that.
The biggest problem with smartphones and smartphone-related platforms like Instagram is the numbing of senses, the loss of manners, the lack of personal interaction that often turns people into brutal jerks. On the internet, they suddenly say things nobody would ever say to each other were they talking face to face.

The alarming number of teenagers that were driven into despair and suicide by social media is the tragic result of this new reality.


teaching the children

In my view, the only way to teach our children empathy is through direct interaction, through seeing that hurtful words eventually cause the other to cry and to have to witness and stand the pain of these tears that we caused. But, we are not dealing with each other anymore as human beings but as profiles and images. Type something hurtful, press the send button, then turn off the device and be done with it. We have become consumers of humanity.

And now, we teach our children that even the Holocaust is nothing but another object of consumption, clothed in 15-second clips of mediocre quality, of sometimes insufferable shaky cameras, rainbows, strawberries, hashtags, and emojis. The Holocaust presented as a superficial virtual reality of the 21century, squeezed into the narrowness of a smartphone screen – not to mention the overall paradox of this fictional Instagram world during the Nazi reign. Eva Heyman’s memory should have deserved better.


reaching high not low

I do not believe that lowering our educational standards to the lowlands of Instagram stories is the correct way to raise our children. Most certainly not when it comes to such complex and difficult topics as the Holocaust. Children want to be inspired, they want to be taken by the hand and taught well, in love and kindness and wisdom. Most children yearn for this attention, even though they wouldn’t admit it. The tragedy is all too often that they don’t get nearly enough of it, something they can’t admit, either.

Nobody can grow and improve by using the means that keep him small, by feeding him more of the food that already numbs his feelings and distorts his senses in dangerous ways.

It would be interesting to learn more about the page’s statistics to understand how many of these 1.7 Mio followers are in fact the youngsters the project wants to reach, those young people who never heard about the Holocaust. How many of the young people that are the target audience have really watched all these little clips till the end? How many of them will start to learn more about the Holocaust as a result of watching Eva’s story? And how many have treated Eva’s story as they treat all other Instagram stories – as disposable snapshots of a moment in time?


education. education.

As a rule, I think using social media for Holocaust education is a legitimate concept. Even Yad Vashem has an Instagram account, where people can learn, see, sense, and feel these important human stories. They are portrayed with honesty and this crucial sense of reality that is essential for this topic.

Don’t turn the Holocaust into a »What if«-project.

In my opinion, the profanity of a 15-second clip is about as low as we can get. It is, in fact, a declaration of parental and educational bankruptcy. Yuval Mendelson, a well-known Israeli musician, wrote in Ha’aretz: “A fictitious Instagram account of a girl murdered in the Holocaust is not and cannot be a legitimate way. […] The path from ‘Eva’s Story’ to selfies at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau is short and steep.”

Considering that we have already reached the point of “Auschwitz-Selfies,” he is, in fact, just describing the already existing troublesome reality.

Raising children in the 21st century brings its very unique and specific challenges. And it’s up to us, the parents, the teachers, to find the necessary creative solutions for overcoming them.


becoming active

I have read many people claiming: “O, but we have to speak the language of the kids when we don’t want the memory of the Holocaust to fade”. Really? No, I don’t think it’s that black and white. It’s not a choice between feeding the Instagram monster or forgetting the Holocaust. When it comes to questions of education and morals, we have to do what’s right and not what is convenient.

Therefore, my praise goes out to Mati Kochavi because he put it onto himself to get involved. To become active. I might disagree with the method he chose, but I am in total support of him doing so. Cause it opens the door for all of us to reflect and discuss the underlying bigger problem.

We need to become more proactive when we want to teach our children about the Holocaust. We need to have our children become more proactive. We need to find ways to have them put their smartphones aside for a moment and listen. We need to get them to sense and feel without a touchscreen. We need to create experiences for them, experiences that will shape their ability to learn empathy and refine their thoughts and senses instead of numbing them. And above all, we need to engage them emotionally instead of turning them into passive consumers whose attention span can’t go beyond 15 seconds.

Once we conquered that, we can consider if Instagram stories could be a proper addition. But I doubt that we will need them then.

There’s a lot to do …


Yehudis Jacobowitz | Hidur Design Works

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