For seven decades, survivor testimony has been the centerpiece of remembering the Holocaust.
But with the world’s community of aging survivors rapidly shrinking and a decline in global understanding of the event that deliberately killed 6 million Jews, advocates of Holocaust remembrance are seeking new and creative ways to share witnesses’ stories with younger generations.
“If we want to bring the memory of the Holocaust to the young generation, we have to bring it to where they are,” said the project co-producer, Mati Kochavi, an Israeli high-tech billionaire who hails from a family of Holocaust victims, survivors and educators. “And they’re on Instagram.”
Kochavi and his daughter, Maya, have created 70 Instagram stories that chronicle the downward spiral of Eva Heyman’s life in the fateful spring of 1944, when the Nazis conquered Hungary.
Heyman was one of about 430,000 Hungarian Jews who were deported to Nazi concentration camps between May 15 and July 9, 1944. Of the estimated 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, around 568,000 were Hungarian, according to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
Heyman’s tale, produced as a Hollywood-style movie with a multimillion-dollar budget, will stream throughout Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, which begins at sundown Wednesday. The installments appear as if Heyman had owned a smartphone during World War II and was using Instagram to share her life updates.
The story opens with Heyman’s happier adolescent experiences then darkens as night falls. The Nazis tighten their hold on Hungary’s Jews, taking her family’s business, belongings and home, forcing Heyman out of her home and ultimately to the Auschwitz death camp. The story’s climactic event is timed to follow Israel’s two-minute siren that wails nationwide Thursday, bringing the country to a standstill at 10 a.m., in annual commemoration of Jewish Holocaust victims.
“What if a girl in the Holocaust had Instagram?” asked the trailer, released Sunday. The brief film shows simulated cellphone footage of Heyman’s fictionalized life, from dancing with friends and a birthday with her grandparents, to Nazi troops marching through the streets of Budapest.
Dozens of Holocaust victims kept diaries of their experiences, with the best known work written by Anne Frank.
The Kochavis pored over scores of the diaries before deciding on Heyman’s. Maya Kochavi said she is the kind of girl “a modern kid in 2019 could connect to,” with a middle school crush, family drama and grand ambitions to become a news photographer.
They hope Heyman’s firsthand account will engage otherwise uninterested or uninformed youth.
While the bulk of the feedback appears to be positive, some critics fear the story, with its Internet lingo, hashtags and emoji, risks playing down Holocaust atrocities.
“A cheapening of the Holocaust compressed into Boomerang,” one Instagram user, Dor Levi, wrote in Hebrew in response to the trailer.
Maya Kochavi said she expected backlash. But she defended Instagram as a place where “lots of very intense and very powerful movements are happening,” with potential to show history’s relevance at a time when anti-Semitism, or prejudice against Jews, is surging in parts of the world.
“It is frightening but quite clear to me,” Mati Kochavi said. “We might be the last generation that really remembers and cares about the Holocaust.”