JERUSALEM — The story of a 13-year-old girl murdered in the Nazi concentration camp of Auschwitz more than 75 years ago has become the newest star of Instagram, after an Israeli billionaire and his daughter brought the girl’s true story to life on the visual social media platform.
Told via Instagram “stories” — short video clips complete with emoji, captions and spoken commentaries — the account titled “Eva Stories” garnered close to a million followers within 24 hours of going live Wednesday evening, the beginning of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel.
The goal, according to the project’s creators — Mati Kochavi and his daughter, Maya — is to raise awareness of the Holocaust in an era of short attention spans and for a generation that is addicted to new media formats.
In Israel, however, some criticized the new treatment of such a sensitive subject, saying presenting it in such a way was in poor taste. The short, colorful clips, they said, failed to highlight the true horrors of World War II, when 6 million Jews, including 1.5 million children, were systematically murdered at the hands of the Nazis.
But Kochavi, the child of Holocaust survivors, said in a statement that “Instagram was a storytelling platform, and like any media and content platform it can tell both deep and superficial stories.”
“In the digital age, when the attention span is low, but the thrill span is high, and given the dwindling number of survivors, it is imperative to find new models of testimony and memory,” he said. “The idea is to use social media to create a new genre of memory, and we hope in this way to bring viewers close to Eva’s life and to the depths of her soul.”
In an interview with the New York Times, the Kochavis said they read dozens of diaries written by teenagers during the Holocaust before choosing the works of Eva Heyman, a secular Jewish girl from Hungary who dreamed of being a reporter and began writing in a diary on her 13th birthday, Feb. 13, 1944.
“Hi! My name’s Eva,” waves a bubbly dark haired girl in the promo video. She is wearing a pink 1940s-style suit jacket and holding a doll as emoji of rainbows and strawberries fly up the screen.
“That’s me, it’s 1944, the Nazis have conquered most of Europe, they do terrible things to us Jews, but they haven’t conquered us yet,” she says in another short clip.
In subsequent videos, Eva, who is played by a British actress and speaks in English with Hebrew subtitles, introduces her family members, her BFF and, later on, even her crush. She also “films” the evil Nazis and declares her hatred for Adolf Hitler, saying she doesn’t understand why so many people “follow him.”
In her real story, partly documented in her diary, Eva was deported about four months after her 13th birthday. Her entries ended on May 30, 1944, and she was killed in Auschwitz on Oct. 17, 1944. Her mother, Agnes Zsolt, survived and later discovered Eva’s diary.
Before the Instagram launch, the multimillion-dollar project was highly publicized online and on giant billboards across Israel, with posters declaring “What if a girl in the Holocaust had Instagram?”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also endorsed the project on Monday, tweeting out that people should follow it. And some high-profile celebrities, including “Wonder Woman” actress Gal Gadot, urged their followers to watch the series.
On Wednesday night, comedian Sarah Silverman tweeted: “Who’s watching @eva.stories on IG? Wow.”
But not everyone was as impressed with the concept. Writing in the Israeli daily Haaretz, Israeli musician and teacher Yuval Mendelson called it crude and said it was in bad taste.
Although it was difficult to reach young people today, he wrote, “a fictitious Instagram account of a girl murdered in the Holocaust is not and cannot be a legitimate way.”
But the project seemed to have achieved its goals on Thursday, not only going viral online but also sparking conversation among Israeli youths who gathered for the annual Holocaust remembrance ceremonies in their schools.
Those behind the project reported that more than 100 million people had already viewed Eva’s story.