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TRACKS reports about Holocaust memory and antisemitism on TikTok

The ARTE television show TRACKS focused in November 2022 on TikTok. In this show Gidon Lev and Julie Gray share their strategies of educating about the Holocaust on the platform. They also talk about their experiences with antisemitism and hate on the app. Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann and Tom Divon talk about Holocaust memory on TikTok and the difficulties of dealing with online antisemitism by the help of automated content moderation. An attempt to create best-practice content was made by the TikTok Shoah Commemoration and Education Initiative, which started in October 2022 with a new group of memorial sites that learn how to make TikTok videos on serious topics.

Creating Holocaust Awareness on TikTok receives Shimon-Peres-Prize

On October 11, 2022 the German Minister of Foreign Affairs, Annalena Baerbock, awarded the Shimon-Peres-Prize of the German-Israel Future Forum (DIZF) to the initiative “Creating Holocaust Awareness among German and Israeli Youth on TikTok”, a collaboration of the Hebrew University’s Department of Communication & Journalism and the European Forum with TikTok Germany, the Israel-based tech and innovation agency PARTNERS PARTNERS & COMPANYfrom Jerusalem, the Berlin based Werk21 agency, and the American Jewish Committee Berlin.

Hebrew University student Omer Koltan and Henning Flaskamp from Werk 21 receive the Shimon-Peres-Prize 2022 from the German Minister of Foreign Affaires, Annalena Baerbock, and the Tamara Or, Managing Director of the German-Israeli Future Forum (DIZF). Credit: T. Ebbrecht-Hartmann

In her laudatory speech, Foreign Minister Baerbock emphasized the importance of developing new forms of remembrance for the future, especially when facing the fact that fewer and fewer survivors can share their memories and experiences from that time. Digital media need to be adapted for keeping those memories alive, even though not everyone was immediately enthused by the idea of choosing TikTok for that purpose.

You said, we’ll do it. We’ll bring remembrance of the Shoah to social media. Because at a time when fewer and fewer Holocaust survivors are still with us, when our societies are changing and we need new forms of remembrance for new generations, at this time it is vital for young people to carry the voices of remembrance forward. Using the digital tools of the twenty-first century.

Annalena Baerbock, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, 11.10.2022

The awarded project deliberately chose a social network “that is often loud, that focuses a great deal on music, sport and lifestyle” for creating Holocaust awareness among German and Israeli youth.

In a training seminar for key institutions in the field of Holocaust commemoration, which was held between October 2021 and January 2022 as part of the TikTok – Shoah Education & Commemoration Initiative, concentration camp memorials and museums could learn how to use TikTok as an educational tool to produce high-quality content that influences and sets standards for Shoah remembrance in the TikTok media format. As a result, several memorials and museums in Germany and Austria started active accounts, which were presented to the public on International Holocaust Remembrance Day in January 2022.

Celebrating the Shimon-Peres-Prize 2022 together with Peres’ daughter Zvia Valdan. Credit: Private

In context of the course Deeper memeing on TikTok: Practicing digital storytelling with multilayered short videos in the Department of Communication & Journalism at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Israeli students produced videos commemorating YomHaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 29, 2022 dealing with generational memory, family history and individual biographies of Holocaust victims and rescuers. Its aim was to utilize TikTok’s potential for education and information.

The specific dialogic potential of TikTok was in the center of innovative collaboration of Israeli students and memorial sites that had participated in the TikTok Shoah Commemoration & Education Initiative. Finally, translating the form of commemorating YomHaShoah in Israel by standing in silence while a siren is heard across the country, we initiated the One Minute Silence Duet on TikTok. Together with the incredible creators Gidon & Julie, TikTokers in Israel, Germany and around the world co-created a serial duet that honored the victims of the Shoah. 

Though Baerbock also mentioned that the internet is sadly also a place “where things are not only loud but often get ugly”, it is important to be visible with best-practice examples and build communities that are actively doing memory on TikTok and other social media platforms.

And the internet is sadly also a place where things are not only loud but often get ugly. Where hatred and hostility spread and, indeed, unbearable antisemitism, too. And that is why it is quite right to go where young people are. To take a stand and confront hatred and hate speech. You are confronting this hatred with the strongest response: facts and empathy.

Annalena Baerbock, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, 11.10.2022

As exemplary case of commemorating and educating about the Holocaust and TikTok, Baerbock mentioned the following video that was created by volunteers at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial:

The video demonstrates a personalized approach to the history of the Holocaust. By referring to personal stories and objects, TikTok can be a place for sharing information and create empathy. Peer-to-peer addressing and interaction with sources such as letters and photographs through the help of the Green-Screen-Effect establish a dialogic space for commemorating and learning.

You and the many volunteers for your project are bringing remembrance of the darkest chapters of our past to where it belongs: to the heart of our lives, the heart of our society.

Annalena Baerbock, Federal Minister of Foreign Affairs, 11.10.2022

The Shimon-Peres-Prize 2022 acknowledges the important work of the many participants in these initiatives – students, volunteers, educators, creators, professionals, industry, academics and survivors alike – who are looking for new ways of preserving the memory of the Holocaust for the future and keep it accessible and relevant for new generations.

Welcome to Digital Visual History @HUJI

Digital Visual History @HUJI is a research cluster that deals with a variety of questions related to transforming forms of writing history and commemorating the past in the digital age.

Digitization of historical documents and sources, digital repositories and archives, advanced search engines, interactive online exhibitions, virtual and augmented reality applications, social media: all these technologies, applications, infrastructures and digital environments have an impact on the way we are approaching the past in the digital age. In the context of our research cluster Digital Visual History we are engaging with a variety of aspects related to these rapidly transforming media and memory ecologies.

Photo: T. Ebbrecht-Hartmann

In our classes and research projects at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem we are dealing with topics such as the audiovisual, digital and Social Media memory of the Holocaust, with the visual history of the GDR, with audiovisual digital humanities, with the archeology of filmic icons from the Nazi past. We are collaborating in several international projects such as the Horizon 2020 research and innovation action Visual History of the Holocaust: Rethinking Curation in the Digital Age and the DFG-project (Con)sequential Images – An archeology of iconic film footage from the Nazi era. We are also initiating new research on timely topics such as our research on the Transformation of Holocaust Memory in Times of COVID 19. We are also cooperating with other projects and activists in our field such as the Commemorations Archive Project initiated by Digital Holocaust Memory.

On our blog we are sharing information about our research and offer a space for young researchers to contribute insights from research seminars. We also introduce current publications on related topics that were authored by members of our team or by other researchers. Some of our most recent publications dealt with the Instagram Stories Holocaust commemoration project Eva Stories as a new form of social media witnessing, with memorials for victims of far right violence as discursive spheres, and with commemorating the Holocaust from a distance in the wake of COVID-19. Newspaper articles discussed controversial topics such as the Holocaust-challenge on the social media platform TikTok or new forms of Holocaust commemoration during the pandemic. We also prepared a series of audiovisual essays, video lectures, podcasts and digital walkthrough videos on Global Holocaust Memory in the Digital Age, and contributed to the Smart Family Institute for Communication podcast series SIP.

The focus of our interdisciplinary research in the field of Digital Visual History is on:

  • Digital curation
  • Mapping relations
  • Social media memory
  • Visual historiography and archeology
  • Digital storytelling (including audiovisual essays)
Mauthausen Memorial. Photo: Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann