Viewers frequently flood Tova Friedman’s TikTok account with probing questions: Why didn’t she try to escape from Auschwitz? Could she hear people screaming from the gas chambers? Were there any times when she almost died but got a second chance?
“I don’t want to turn them off, so I have to be careful a little bit how to do it,” Friedman said. “I’m very careful in choosing my vocabulary.”
Nearly 500,000 people have subscribed to Friedman’s TikTok account, previously reported by NorthJersey.com, since she and her grandson, Aron Goodman, launched the page in fall 2021. They said they’re trying to counter online Holocaust denial and misinformation by sharing Friedman’s firsthand experience — ensuring that the truth lives on, even with antisemitic views widespread in the United States.
“I have a terrific obligation to speak,” Friedman said in an interview. “I don’t have survivor’s guilt, but I have survivor’s obligation, so that I speak to remember.”
@tovafriedman Meet Tova Friedman, a Holocaust Survivor from Tomashov Mazovsky, Poland. #shoah #israel @israel @lilyebert #alwaysremember #poland #fyp #education #Fy ♬ Inspiration - WavebeatsMusic
Born in Poland on the cusp of World War II, Friedman was forced by Nazis first into a Jewish ghetto and then into Auschwitz. At age 6, she was released from a gas chamber for reasons she still does not know. She once hid next to a still-warm corpse to evade Nazis gathering prisoners for a death march, according to her memoir, and she eventually gained her freedom when Auschwitz was liberated in 1945.
In most of her TikTok videos, Friedman perches on a couch at Aron’s home in Morristown, N.J., and speaks directly to the camera. She also invites her audience into various other settings, including a radio recording studio and a float in a pro-Israel parade.
One post shows Friedman holding up her sleeve as the camera zooms in on the Auschwitz identification number tattooed on her forearm: A-27633. In another video, Friedman holds up the Red Cross card that she used to travel after the Holocaust ended.
TikTok not long ago was totally unfamiliar to Friedman, who initially thought Aron was saying “Tic Tac.” Aron said he recently had to explain to her why they can’t edit a live video like they do to other posts.
But Friedman said her grandson has made adjusting to the platform as painless as possible. He coaches her to make the most of the videos’ short time frame and edits the posts afterward. When she feels uncomfortable while recording, they stop.
Aron also shields Friedman from the antisemitic remarks that their account sometimes receives and said he tries not to dwell on them himself. While much of TikTok’s content is positive, antisemitic extremists have sometimes co-opted the platform to spread hateful content and conspiracy theories, according to the Anti-Defamation League.
“Those give me fuel to try to continue this work,” Aron said. “For the most part, I think about the positive impact we have,” including a message from a teacher in India who wanted to use some of the account’s material for her class.
Holocaust education in Aron’s own classes has been limited, he said. While TikTok videos can’t replace widespread lessons in schools, Aron said he hopes his account will inspire young people to learn further on their own. Friedman, who works as a therapist, also speaks frequently to students and other groups.
All of it, she said, is meant to make people understand the perils of unbridled loathing.
“It’s a warning to be careful with the hatred that you feel about somebody or something,” Friedman said. “It’s okay to feel dislike. … But it’s a different thing to act on it.”
While Aron and Friedman try to expand their content to Instagram and other platforms, they’re also figuring out the future of the “TovaTok” account. Aron is set to leave New Jersey for college in St. Louis this fall, and he’s unsure what that means for the project. He might expand the account to include interviews with other Holocaust survivors, he said, or make videos with his grandmother over FaceTime.
Friedman, for her part, isn’t ready to throw in the towel on their TikTok page.
“I just want to speak as long as I can and reach as many people as is possible as long as I’m alive,” she said.
An earlier version of this article referred to Auschwitz as a Nazi death camp in Poland. It was in Nazi-occupied Poland. The article has been corrected.