Social media offer an important participatory environment for Shoah commemoration. As a relatively young platform, TikTok, focusing on user-generated audiovisual content, had yet been fully acknowledged as an appropriate commemorative environment by memorials, educators, and other actors in the field of Shoah commemoration in Germany and Israel, although there is a need for exemplary initiatives and best-practice models in the context of TikTok as a newly emerging social media environment for Shoah commemoration. Our program “Creating Holocaust Awareness among German and Israeli Youth on TikTok” aimed to change this together with partners from various fields including Holocaust memorials and museums, communication agencies, TikTok creators and users.
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 & COMPANY from Jerusalem, the Berlin based Werk21 agency, and the American Jewish Committee Berlin.
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.
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 on 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.
In course of the project “Creating Holocaust Awareness among German and Israeli Youth on TikTok”, the partners together with concentration camp memorials, museums, students, volunteers and TikTok creators initiated the following activities:
TikTok Shoah Commemoration & Education Initiative
The TikTok – Shoah Education & Commemoration Initiative organized a training seminar between October 2021 and January 2022 that was aimed at enabling key institutions in the field of Holocaust commemoration on how to use TikTok as an educational tool to produce high-quality content that influences and sets standards for the discourse on Shoah remembrance in the TikTok media format.
The project is a collaborative initiative between TikTok Germany, the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Department of Communication and Journalism, the Israel-based tech and innovation agency PARTNERS PARTNERS & COMPANY from Jerusalem, the Berlin based Werk21 agency, and the American Jewish Committee Berlin as an internationally recognized advocacy organization in the field of Shoah commemoration and education.
The initiative has the following objectives:
- Reaching a better understanding of Shoah-related commemorative and educational activities on TikTok and the platform’s potential for Shoah commemoration and education.
- Enabling commemorative institutions, such as memorials and museums, to integrate TikTok into their commemorative and educational activities.
- Producing best-practice models for commemorating the Shoah on TikTok and using the application as a tool for participatory educational approaches.
We are seeing young users actively engage with the subject of the Shoah on platforms like TikTok, and that this is thus becoming an increasingly important aspect of our social and political life. But often, there is a lack of positive examples and content that reflects the many years of experience of experts in the field while still ‘speaking the language’ of TikTok. Our initiative aims to help on that point. For us, the memorial sites and museums are important ‘influencers’. They not only establish visibility for the subject, but also enter into dialogue with people who wish to know more about the background of the Shoah, individual biographies, and the historic locations.Dr. Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann explains the background of the TikTok Shoah Commemoration & Education Initiative
As a result of the first training seminar 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:
Neuengamme Memorial. Mauthausen Memorial. Bergen Belsen Memorial
The following memorial sites and museums participated in the pilot project:
- Bergen-Belsen Memorial
- Ravensbrück Memorial Museum
- Sachsenhausen Memorial and Museum
- House of the Wannsee Conference
- Jewish Museum Berlin
- Dachau Concentration Camp Memorial Site
- Flossenbürg Concentration Camp Memorial
- Mauthausen Memorial
- Neuengamme Concentration Camp Memorial
- Foundation Remembrance, Responsibility, and Future (EVZ)
- Villa ten Hompel
A second training seminar started in October 2022. Reaching new audiences and communicating eye to eye, without trivializing the seriousness of the issue, is one of the biggest challenges when commemorating the Shoah today. The Shoah Commemoration Initiative on TikTok 2.0 (SCITT 2.0) offered practical training to successfully tackle this challenge online. Holocaust memorial and museums together with TikTok creators, communication specialists, educators and TikTok researchers continued the conversation about the Shoah beyond the physical space of the memorial site. The training seminar supported a new batch of Shoah memorial institutions, among them Arolsen Archives, Dachau Memorial, EVZ, Yad Mordechai, the Memorial and Educational Site House of the Wannsee Conference and Augustaschacht Memorial, in developing and implementing a strategy for their own TikTok account.
In January 2023, the results of SCITT 2.0 were presented to the public in Berlin. Among the videos that were created by the participants for commemorating the International Holocaust Memorial Day on January 27, 2023 were also collaborative duets with Gidon Lev and other memorial sites. The Arolsen Archives and Mauthausen Memorial collaborated in a joint TikTok video that emphasized the importance of collecting and preserving evidence from Nazi atrocities. During the seminar, the participants also met at the Neuengamme Memorial and co-created videos at the site:
The Israeli ambassador Ron Prosor embraced the continuation of the initiative:
I am impressed how committed TikTok and all participants of this initiative are to use this impressive platform to educate about and commemorate the Holocaust. By doing so, museums and memorials get in contact with young and new audiences. This is very important for the future transmission of memory.Ron Prosor, Israeli Ambassador in Berlin
Tobias Henning, General Manager of TikTok Germany, emphasized the responsibility to preserve the memory of the victims of the Shoah also in the digital world.
German and Israeli media reported about the TikTok Shoah Commemoration & Education Initiative. Here is a selection of the media coverage:
- Press Release, 26.1.2022
- Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 23.1.2022
- ARD Tagesthemen, 26.1.2022
- Deutschlandfunk Kultur, 26.1.2022
- Jüdische Allgemeine, 26.1.2022
- Süddeutsche Zeitung, 26.1.2022
- Belltower News, 26.1.2022
- Deutschlandfunk, 27.1.2022
- Haaretz, 27.1.2022
- WDR 5, 28.1.2022
- Press Release SCITT 2.0, 26.1.2023
- Belltower News, 24.1.2023
- Jüdische Allgemeine, 25.1.2023
- Deutsche Welle, 26.1.2023
- Süddeutsche Zeitung, 26.1.2023
- MDR.de, 27.1.2023
Watch the video lecture Doing Memory on TikTok by Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann and Tom Divon.
Read more about Holocaust commemoration and education on TikTok in Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann’s and Tom Divon’s article Serious TikTok: Can you learn about the Holocaust in 60 seconds?.
Creating TikTok videos commemorating YomHaShoah in Israel
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, we produced videos commemorating YomHaShoah, Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day, on April 29, 2022. Students created TikToks about their family history, informed about resistance during the Holocaust, engaged with survivor testimonies, discussed books about the Holocaust, or reflected on contemporary Holocaust memory.
Our students are working on fascinating videos that commemorate individual biographies, reflect about the future of memory or focus on overlooked or forgotten aspects of this history. By doing so, we hope to extend Israel’s Yom HaShoah and especially the points of view of young Israelis to the world’s most successful online platform.Dr. Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann on TikTok videos created by students to commemorate YomHaShoah
By doing so, we evaluate the potential of TikTok for serious information-driven and interest-based content by analyzing related trends on the platform and creating our own content. Our aim was to learn how to utilize TikTok’s memetic power for education and information. The specific dialogic potential of TikTok was also in the center of an innovative collaboration of Israeli students and memorial sites that had participated in the TikTok Shoah Commemoration & Education Initiative. Under the topic “What’s it like in your country?”, the Mauthausen Memorial uploaded two collaborative videos on Holocaust education and about visits to Holocaust memorials and museums. In a collaboration with the Flossenbürg Memorial, two students from Israel created videos about the former prisoners Oscar Albert and Samuel Bruckner that were uploaded to the account Keeping Memories.
If we want the Shoah to remain an important part of our global consciousness, and if we want to preserve the knowledge and memory of this darkest chapter of Jewish history, it also needs to find a place on a platform such as TikTok. This means to create best-practice examples that can also counter misinformation and distortion, which is unfortunately also present on TikTok. In our seminar, we explore the potential of TikTok videos to deal with serious topics such as memory, history, religion and science. We are convinced that it is possible to engage with the history of the Shoah in sixty seconds. That TikTok videos are short does not mean that we cannot use their many layers to address a complex topic such as the Shoah.Dr. Tobias Ebbrecht-Hartmann about teaching serious TikTok at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem
In a television report on Holocaust commemoration on TikTok, Channel 13 presented our activities and highlighted the creative work of students from the Hebrew University to utilize the platform and its specific features to educate about the history and memory of the Holocaust. This article from Channel 12 also describes these initiatives in context of our broader research on the topic.
TikTok offers a specific feature, the “duet”. With a duet, a creator can directly respond and relate to a video by another creator. Originally developed to enable joint singing and dancing performances, duets are one of many collaborative and dialogic tools offered by the platform. Lately, creators used duets also to support or criticize specific content uploaded by others. Many users duet survivor testimonies on TikTok in order to create a specific form of listening to TikTok testimonies.
Translating the form of commemorating YomHaShoah in Israel by standing in silence while a siren is heard across the country, we developed the One Minute Silence Duet on TikTok. TikTokers in Israel, Germany and around the world should co-create a serial duet that would honor the victims of the Shoah. In addition, many also duetted the original video by Israeli Holocaust survivor Gidon Lev. His video marked the starting point of the #OneMinuteSilence Duet on YomHaShoah 2022.
Organizations and creators that participated in the #OneMinuteSilence Duet initiative were the official TikTok account of the State of Israel, the Mauthausen and Neuengamme Memorials, Keshet, the Gamaraal Foundation, students from the Hebrew University, and creators from the #MyStoryYourStory initiative.
The following sections are dedicated to focus on specific aspects of Holocaust commemoration and education on TikTok and related subjects:
Possibilities and challenges of Holocaust education on TikTok
Julie Gray, TikTok creator and life partner of Holocaust survivor and TikTok star Gidon Lev, is very much aware of the possibilities and challenges of talking about the Holocaust on TikTok. In an article in the Times of Israel she explains:
On good days, I tell myself that Gidon’s TikTok presence might be an invitation to learn more for some young people. On not-so-good days, I wonder if this is really it – the last chance – the one way we can get a young person, woefully ignorant about the Holocaust, to pay attention, even for 30 seconds. Is that what we are reduced to?Julie Gray, TikTok Creator of thetrueadventures
“Is Holocaust education possible on TikTok?” This question poses a real challenge, especially when we take into account that it will never be possible to cover the multitude of experiences from the Shoah in a series of short-videos. Nevertheless, Gidon Lev’s videos are watched by hundreds of thousands of viewers. And the last year demonstrated that the presence of Holocaust survivors and Holocaust memorials made a difference. The Holocaust became part of the TikTok playground in serious but nevertheless playful ways.
However, there is also the “dark side” of TikTok, and Julie Gray knows it very well. Whoever tries to educate about the Holocaust on the platform has also to learn how to confront and counter hate, especially antisemitism and a variety of “whataboutisms”, specifically those related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Gidon Lev and Julie Gray developed a variety of best-practice strategies how to engage with negative, distorting and sometimes openly antisemitic comments in creative and productive ways. Sometimes, however, deleting is the only possible solution.
Hate on TikTok, including antisemitism, is not alien to the platform. It’s special ways of disseminating content beyond existing networks of friends and followers as well as the memetic structure of communication on the platform can also foster negative, hateful and abusive content:
“Online Hate is a product of human and computational agents. On TikTok, hate speech is being spread by users who utilize the platform’s powerful exposure mechanism (the “ForYou” page) for better dissemination of their messages. They gain visibility by translating hate into TikTok’s grassroots content of memes which is highly rewarded by algorithmic amplification.”Tom Divon, The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
TikTok also became a battlefield for identity conflicts. This makes it sometimes very difficult to “just” focus on commemoration and Holocaust education. Julie Gray, however, sees this as a chance to broaden the perspective and creatively utilize the dialogic and responsive means of TikTok:
For Jews, this intense cultural period of identity politics, empowerment of victims of trauma, and reclaiming narratives is once again a time when particularity and universalism reappear as a litmus test of how we see ourselves in the world. And now, how the world sees us on Tiktok.Julie Gray, TikTok Creator of thetrueadventures
Holocaust education on TikTok is not (just) about the past. It is not a history lesson, somehow disconnected from present conflicts and challenges. If Holocaust memory should remain relevant in the age of Social Media, it has to resonate with the present. This requires active networks of serious and creative creators and users that care about the topic and are willing to counter hate, denial and antisemitism. Julie Gray and Gidon Lev demonstrate how TikTok could become a responsive and responsible tool for keeping the memory of the Holocaust alive.
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.