Holocaust remembrance day: How the genocide is being reimagined through the eyes of Instagram for Israel's youth

Divisive Israeli social media campaign 'Eva Stories' aims to bring to life memory of Holocaust through documenting one girl's final months 

Bel Trew
Jerusalem
Wednesday 05 June 2019 21:57
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The Instagram trailer opens with a bubbly teenager called Eva appealing to viewers to follow her Instagram page, where she documents her life, loves and friendships through boomerang videos and selfies.

But very quickly the story changes. Shaky footage shot by the teen shows Nazi soldiers marching into her town and later storming her home. Soldiers round up her family.

This Eva is based on a real-life Hungarian Jew: 13-year-old, Eva Heyman. Before she was murdered in Auschwitz in 1944, she documented the final few months of her life in a personal diary that was only discovered years later.

It is the trailer of a controversial new Israeli social media campaign that aims to bring to life the fading memory of the Holocaust for a young social media generation by asking the question: “What if a girl in the Holocaust had Instagram?”.

“Eva Stories” is the brainchild of Israeli tech multimillionaire Mati Kochavi and his daughter Maya, who, from Wednesday afternoon, will post dozens of clips to the @Eva.Stories Instagram account.

The footage, shot as if Eva were using a mobile phone and social media apps, documents the Nazi occupation of her hometown Nagyvárad and her eventual deportation to a concentration camp, where she was killed.

The project, timed to mark Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, has been endorsed by recently re-elected prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who appears to see it as a means of bolstering the country’s role as both a haven and historical homeland for Jews.

The originality of the idea has been widely praised in Israel but has also received some backlash. Some have complained that the use of Instagram stories, hashtags and boomerangs cheapens the horrors of the Holocaust, in which 6 million Jews were killed.

Mr Kochavi, who realised it might stir controversy, defended the unusual storytelling method, saying it is part of keeping the history of the Holocaust alive.

“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 in a statement.

“Instagram is a storytelling platform, and like any media and content platform it can tell both deep and superficial stories.”

Mr Netanyahu lauded the idea on his own social media accounts.

He said on Twitter: “[Such projects are important] so that the world will understand, so that we will remember what we lost and what was restored to us with the foundation of the State of Israel.

“Every day, episode by episode, the great tragedy of our people is essentially exposed through the story of one girl.”

The trailer, which was posted two days ago, has already garnered three-quarter of a million views, and the Instagram account more than 400,000 followers. Billboards promoting “Eva Stories” have also popped up across Israel.

Eva Stories tells the story of Eva Heyman, who died in the Holocaust, using Instagram (Screenshot from Eva Stories Instagram page)

According to a press statement, 400 technicians, actors in period costume and extras helped make the videos, which were filmed in Lviv, Ukraine. The actor playing Eva is British.

Meanwhile, more than 1,000 social media influencers and Israeli celebrities have been recruited to help promote the project.

Most of the comments on the trailer praised the producers, but some expressed concerns it would only trivialise the story.

“A cheapening of the Holocaust compacted into Boomerang,” wrote one user on the “Eva Stories” Instagram account.

Eva Stories is told from the perspective of a teenage Hungarian girl, imagining she had social media (Screenshot from Eva Stories Instagram page)

Two other users, both teenagers, said the project was demeaning to the youth. Another posted “poor and shocking”.

Nonetheless, the creators have said Eva, who deals with day-to-day troubles including her parents’ divorce and the hopes of one day becoming a famous journalist, will strike a chord with young people who will be drawn into her story.

Maya Kochavi said: “There’s a lot that young kids will really feel and relate to and hopefully this continues as her journey becomes more difficult and she starts to experience some of the more horrific parts of the story.”

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