If we held a moment of silence for every Jew brutally murdered by the Nazis during the Holocaust, we would be silent for more than 11 years. That would be powerful, but it is, of course, entirely impractical.
As the survivor generation dies out, we have a special obligation to keep sharing their stories. On that, most decent people agree. But what is far from clear is the best mechanism by which to do that.
On Yom Hashoah in Israel, a particular way of honoring the murdered is incredibly poignant. A siren rings and life simply ceases. Traffic comes to a halt on streets and even on highways, and people get out of their cars, stand up, and pay their respects in silence. It’s chilling to watch.
But what about the international community? What new and creative ways can we use to educate a generation of people that is increasingly ignorant about the atrocities of the Holocaust? How can we educate people who will have never met a survivor? How do we keep things feeling personal and immediately relevant as time continues to pass?
The answer this year came from two people: Mati and Maya Kochavi. The father and daughter duo has taken the diary of Eva Heyman, a Jewish teenager who, not unlike Anne Frank, documented her experience in a journal, and transformed it into a series of Instagram stories. Kochavi told CNN they “were looking for a way to deal with Holocaust memory and manage this memory in a way that is going to be relevant for a younger generation today.”
The content of the stories are based on Eva’s diary pages. But the way they have been filmed and posted feels exactly like what you might expect had a teenage girl in the Holocaust somehow had access to an iPhone. The stories are not disappearing. They have been pinned under the highlights section, each one pertaining to a different date or diary entry. The account (@eva.stories) already has just under 1 million followers.
Critics have charged that the project dumbs down the Holocaust and belittles the most serious incident of genocide the world has ever seen. They’ve questioned the wisdom of making Instagram the vehicle to deliver this kind of powerful, haunting story.
But tech platforms like Instagram and Twitter are not inherently good or bad. They’re not inherently anything at all. Ultimately, it’s all about the content. And content can be anything; shallow and vapid or purposeful and important. This was the latter.
More importantly: Eva’s stories were already circulated through more traditional means. Her journal was published long ago. It never made anything close to the kind of impact this Instagram account has had in an incredibly short time. Younger Americans who are less likely to have ever met a survivor are incredibly likely to be on Instagram. There’s nothing gained by ignoring that sort of reality.
There’s incredible value in creative educational materials that reach audiences whom typical mediums might not otherwise reach. People seeking long historical reads about the horrors of the camps will always be able to find them. What’s important is that we create a kind of content that seeks out those unlikely to search out Holocaust materials themselves. And with rising anti-Semitism on both the left and the right, we shouldn’t be ruling out a single potential vehicle for education.
Eva Heyman was murdered in a Nazi gas chamber on October 17th, 1944. Say her name. Watch her stories.