Cat movies and Auschwitz? The perils of utilizing social media to debate the Holocaust – Israel Information

Clicking “Observe” on a Twitter account could not look like the best method to memorialize the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. However in a high-profile effort, the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial and museum set a aim of reaching 1 million Twitter followers by January 27 – the date when the Crimson Military entered the infamous loss of life camp in 1945.

Initially, the museum’s marketing campaign aimed to get to 750,000 followers by the anniversary date. However with the surge in anti-Semitic incidents world wide over the previous 12 months, celebrities and social media influencers leapt on the bandwagon and joined the marketing campaign. After hitting its first aim by November 30, it upped the goal to the million mark.


The feed’s million or so followers will frequently view the images and tales of victims who handed by means of the gates of the loss of life camp in Nazi-occupied Poland. Most, however not all, are Jewish. Most have been killed there, however there are additionally tales of survival. There are frequent “This present day in historical past” posts on vital dates. The artwork and writing of Auschwitz victims and survivors are posted and promoted, and different vital Holocaust-related information is retweeted and amplified.

The feed – together with the memorial and museum’s Fb and Instagram accounts – is the handiwork of Pawel Sawicki, the museum’s press officer since 2007. Over his 12-year tenure, his function has prolonged past the normal duties of guiding journalists and writing press releases, and into the web enviornment.


Sawicki clearly remembers the interior debate in 2009 over whether or not it was acceptable for the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial to create a Fb account – one thing no Holocaust museum or memorial had but performed, he says.

“We have been cautious and seen it as an experiment. We have been nervous that it will be seen as offensive to place our supplies in a spot the place they would seem alongside folks’s household images and cat movies,” he tells Haaretz in a telephone interview. “I used to be able to shut it down at any second due to that. However we observed that folks have been trying to find details about Auschwitz on Fb – and what appeared was usually inaccurate. And so we requested round if folks wished us on social media, and the reply was sure.”

At the moment, it’s a level of satisfaction for Sawicki that the museum’s social media accounts have a mixed complete of greater than 1.four million followers. He sees social media exercise as taking part in a key function in fulfilling his establishment’s mission. “We all know there are billions of people that have by no means visited any Holocaust-related websites or museums. And now there’s something we are able to do about it,” he says. “We will attain and educate individuals who for a lot of causes can’t be right here.”


The Auschwitz museum’s Twitter account stands out from different Holocaust websites’ accounts as a result of it goes past pure schooling, doesn’t draw back from controversy and steadily grabs headlines by performing because the “Holocaust police.”

Pawel Sawicki.  “We can reach and educate people who for many reasons cannot be here,” he says of the Auschwitz-Birkenau museum's social media presence.
Marek Lach, Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum

Sawicki has referred to as out guests for inappropriate picture-taking – asking them to stop – and shamed U.S. Republican congressman Rep. Clay Higgins of Louisiana after he posted a selfie video in an Auschwitz gas chamber.


He has campaigned in opposition to on-line large Amazon and different retailers promoting printed pictures of Auschwitz on objects like Christmas ornaments, tub towels, bathe curtains and occasional mugs. He criticized John Boyne, the creator of the best-selling novel “The Boy within the Striped Pajamas,” asserting that the guide shouldn’t be utilized in Holocaust schooling due to factual inaccuracies.


And when a conservative American columnist, Kurt Schlichter, wrote in 2016 that any Jewish supporter of Barack Obama and John Kerry “would have made a superb helper at Auschwitz,” Sawicki chided that “the tragedy of prisoners of Auschwitz & their sophisticated ethical dilemmas which at present we are able to hardly comprehend shouldn’t be instrumentalized.”

Progressive strategy

Sawicki is much from alone in harnessing social media for Holocaust schooling. Along with the multitude of museums, tutorial institutes and advocacy organizations now energetic on-line, there are new gamers.


Forward of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day final spring, a brand new progressive strategy that drew worldwide consideration was “Eva Tales,” which remodeled the diary of a Holocaust sufferer by reimagining it as an Instagram story. Funded by high-tech mogul Mati Kochavi, the undertaking hoped to succeed in younger Israelis by bringing the Holocaust to the place the place their consideration was targeted.

Kochavi conceived the undertaking after endeavor a examine during which it was discovered that simply 2.7 % of the folks discussing the Holocaust in Western international locations have been beneath the age of 30. Out of 12,778,533 posts addressing the Holocaust throughout social media platforms in Western international locations, solely 347,485 have been posted by these aged 30 or youthful, the examine revealed.

Screenshot of the Instagram homepage for Eva Stories, which has 1.4 million followers.
Screenshot from Instagram

“Within the digital age, when the eye span is low however the thrill span is excessive, and given the dwindling variety of survivors, it’s crucial to search out new fashions of testimony and reminiscence,” Kochavi defined.


Not everybody agreed with him. The undertaking drew some criticism, most prominently from musician and educator Yuval Mendelson, who wrote in Haaretz (in Hebrew) that the undertaking was “a display of bad taste, being promoted aggressively and crudely.” He added that “a fictitious Instagram account of a woman murdered within the Holocaust is just not and can’t be a respectable approach” to commemorate the devastating tragedy.

However the response to “Eva Tales” was, for essentially the most half, overwhelmingly optimistic. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin clearly seen it favorably: On Tuesday, he introduced he would ask the world leaders attending Israel’s World Holocaust Forum occasion at Yad Vashem this week to write down their reflections on the Instagram and Twitter accounts of “Eva Tales,” with a view to guarantee the youngsters of the world that “there’ll by no means be one other Holocaust.”

Past the pale


Noam Tirosh, a reminiscence and communications scholar at Ben-Gurion College of the Negev, Be’er Sheva, says any debate about whether or not the Holocaust belongs on social media is now “irrelevant,” since “it’s there, and it’s not going wherever.”

“So long as now we have new expertise and new mediums to speak, initially folks can be asking how can we presumably symbolize one thing concerning the Holocaust on this new type.”


Tirosh has a reminder for individuals who deem the medium inappropriate. “Should you look again, you will note that the criticism folks had concerning the [1978] television miniseries ‘Holocaust’ or [1993’s] ‘Schindler’s Checklist’ is similar to what was stated about ‘Eva Tales.’”


It wasn’t way back that fictionalizing the atrocities of the Holocaust onscreen was deemed past the pale. Elie Wiesel wrote of the miniseries “Holocaust” (within the New York Instances) that it was “unfaithful, offensive, low cost,” an “insult to those that perished and to those that survived,” and “transforms an ontological occasion into soap-opera.”

Tirosh says he’s “optimistic” about the best way during which digital and social media platforms “provide new alternatives for brand new folks to symbolize the Holocaust in numerous methods” – past the “conventional gatekeepers” like academia, museums and advocacy organizations.

The Worldwide Holocaust Remembrance Alliance shares Tirosh’s outlook. On a webpage devoted to Holocaust education and social media, it notes that whereas “Holocaust educators show a reluctance to have interaction absolutely with social media,” it can’t be averted.


“Social media is so prevalent … that it can’t be ignored in Holocaust schooling or wherever else. The vital query, due to this fact, is just not concerning the promise or pitfalls of the social media; relatively, it’s about how greatest to adapt Holocaust schooling to this new format, utilizing its potential to restrict any potential challenges,” asserts the IHRA.

Tirosh believes that “Eva Tales” ought to function “an instance of how new media can be utilized to assist interact new audiences. He means that educators ought to give attention to find out how to optimize using the medium. He believes they should not solely present supplies, but additionally to “be there and be a part of the follow-up and the reactions. The following undertaking on Instagram ought to embody placing educators within the feedback – and host reside discussions because the story unfolds.”

Alongside social media’s function in educating and memorializing the Holocaust is its use in calling out inappropriate use of Holocaust imagery or treating it disrespectfully.


Sawicki says he has needed to study to take action judiciously, and to decide on his battles fastidiously. For instance, he tries to be delicate to younger individuals who might not be conscious that the selfie they snap whereas visiting Auschwitz will offend when it turns into an Instagram submit. However he’s harsher on establishments, as within the case of the Christmas ornaments on the market on Amazon and different retailers peddling Auschwitz bathe curtains.

A Christmas ornament with a photo of Auschwitz on it listed for sale on Amazon.
Screenshot / Amazon

Daunting job

A extra daunting job is countering the tidal wave of Holocaust denial and revisionism that has exploded throughout social media platforms, primarily from anti-Semitic people and organizations. Whereas the battles of the 1980s and ’90s have seen the retreat of Holocaust denial from tutorial settings, the web – which gives the cloak of anonymity – is a free-for-all.


Sawicki has an ironclad rule: he by no means debates Holocaust deniers. As an alternative, “we block them, we report accounts. Generally they’re taken down and typically they aren’t,” he says.

Lately, debate has raged across the accountability of social media platforms to counter Holocaust denial. Facebook has controversially stood by a policy that opposes eradicating “lies or content material that’s inaccurate – whether or not it’s denying the Holocaust, the Armenian bloodbath, or the truth that the Syrian authorities has killed a whole lot of hundreds of its personal folks.” Nevertheless, it’ll “take down any content material that celebrates, defends, or makes an attempt to justify the Holocaust.”


Sawicki sees his museum’s social media feed, which he describes as being stuffed with “faces, information, paperwork and tales,” as a type of “vaccine for people who find themselves uncovered to Holocaust denial” – an extension of the stronger “vaccine” which he believes a go to to the Auschwitz-Birkenau memorial offers. “That’s the reason it’s so vital for us to be on social media,” he explains. “If we stated, ‘We’ll steer clear of social media as a result of that’s the place the deniers are,’ we’d permit them to regulate the narrative in that house. It is a battle we shouldn’t let go of.”


The IHRA agrees, writing on its social webpage that “tendencies resembling Holocaust denial, diminishment and trivialization are rampant on the web, and utilizing social media has the potential to introduce these subjects to college students and provides them unwarranted prominence.” To counter this, “it’s crucial that customers have entry to and know find out how to acknowledge trusted sources and acceptable pictures,” it provides.

Far worse than Twitter trolls

However there’s one side of the battle the place Sawicki is in a extra problematic place: Pushing again in opposition to what Tirosh and lots of others see as government-sponsored Holocaust revisionism.


“Authorities forces are much more highly effective and way more horrifying than any Twitter troll,” notes Tirosh. As he sees it, “The Polish authorities makes use of [social media] to intentionally falsify the narrative of the Holocaust, and to regulate the discourse and create misremembrance.”

As an worker of a state-run Polish museum that toes the road on the country’s controversial Holocaust law, which makes it unlawful to say that the Polish nation or folks participated in any Nazi conflict crimes or collaborated with the occupying pressure, Sawicki has been accused of being complicit with such efforts.

Ariel Sobel wrote in Haaretz last year that “Auschwitz is rewriting Holocaust historical past, one tweet at a time.” She complained that the museum account “challenges tweets that be aware that Polish anti-Semitism predated and contributed to the atrocities, and pushes the road that indigenous Polish anti-Semitism has no relevance to Auschwitz.” She added that the museum is “selling a harmful narrative, pushed by Polish nationalists, to expunge their file of anti-Semitism at a time when Jew-hatred is on the rise within the nation.”


Final month, Sawicki clashed with U.S. Division of Justice lawyer McKay Smith after the museum blocked a Twitter account belonging to a bunch referred to as “Ladies Combat AntiSemitism” when it posted a tweet (since deleted) charging that the museum’s “sham of an account” was “forging untruths and Holocaust denial.”

Sawicki acknowledges the problem of discussing “very sophisticated historical past” in an setting that lends itself to misinterpretation, lack of context and an inclination to see issues in “black and white.”

He emphasizes that he’s not solely criticized by one aspect of the talk.


“Sure, we obtain tweets that we’re whitewashing the story of the Holocaust and revising historical past [in favor of] the Poles,” he says. However he will get simply as many, he says, from Polish nationalists and anti-Semites, “who tweet that we’re managed by the Jews, that we’re a ‘Judeo-cosmopolitan’ establishment and that we reduce the struggling of the Poles.”

Finally, Sawicki attracts a optimistic message from all the criticism: If you find yourself getting slammed from either side within the combative world of social media, “I determine it means we’re most likely getting it proper,” he concludes.