Selfies With Survivors: Do Holocaust and Social Media Mix?

'Never forget' campaigns are going viral on Twitter and Facebook ahead of Israel's national remembrance day. But isn’t Shoah more than a hashtag?

AP

I suppose it was inevitable: the Holocaust meets social media.

Sure, over the past several years, there have always been posts and reminders of the Holocaust on its memorial days around the world online. But this year it has intensified and become more official.

That fact crystallized for me just now, when I saw that a well-meaning friend’s Facebook cover photo had been transformed into a grainy photograph of a heartbreakingly cute little boy in a sailor suit. She explained in a comment that the boy was from the same town as her grandfather, and that her son had “twinned” his Bar Mitzvah with him. The post itself suggested that I do something similar - pay tribute to the victims of the Holocaust on social media on the eve of Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

It read:

“Please change your Facebook photo to a Holocaust victim in honor of Yom Hashoah, which begins this Sunday. A partial list of victims with photos is available at http://www.yadvashem.org/yv/en/downloads/ names_2010.asp. Photos are on the far right and names are on the same line on the left side."

Yad Vahsem, Israel’s national Holocaust memorial and museum, paired this request with a reminder that they are “still missing the names of millions of Holocaust victims. Please submit the names of your relatives to Yad Vashem so we can document their lives and remember them beyond this generation."

The Yad Vashem campaign comes on the heels of the Israel Defense Force’s social media effort asking the younger generation to post photographs of themselves together with a Holocaust survivor. The project, which was launched by the IDF Spokesperson's Unit, calls on readers to "pay tribute to Holocaust survivors."

(The campaign made news last week when it was “hijacked” by pro-Palestinian groups who decided to use the hashtag to illustrate the plight of Palestinians, flipping the meaning of #WeAreHere.)

The IDF English-language blog explains:

“With three simple steps, you will be able to contribute to Holocaust remembrance. Post a photo of yourself together with a Holocaust survivor on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram with the hashtag #WeAreHere. Also be sure to include his or her name, age, and place of residence. We will then create an index of all of the photos you tagged, and build an interactive map according to location. This will contribute to commemorating those who were lost, and produce a dynamic memorial to those who remain across the globe.”

The IDF campaign hasn’t gone without criticism - derided by some in the Israeli media as “selfie with a survivor."

Indeed, there is something that, for older generations of Jews, feels deeply uncomfortable on a gut level about transferring an event as overwhelming and devastating as the Holocaust to the world of selfies, likes, and retweets. The Holocaust feels like something to be discussed and contemplated, not something you post, click, and move on.

Some critics, like my Haaretz colleague Uri Misgav, bemoan it all as part of a nationalist, religious, right-wing “Holocaust festival” designed to keep us all brainwashed, writing:

“Should anyone ever wish to study how Israel imploded into a black hole of messianic-victim ultranationalism, the evolution of Holocaust Remembrance Day, or Yom Hashoah, could serve as an excellent metaphor. What began as a single memorial day, restrained and austere, has over time morphed into a week-long festival."

I’m not so sure he’s right. After thinking about it, I have decided that older generations should get over our discomfort with the phenomenon; the “restrained and austere” version of Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel was always intended to envelope the entire society for 24 hours - something inescapable. That is the reason for the siren that stops traffic for us to contemplate the loss, and the reason that uniformly, all of the television channels and radio stations cease their regular programming and broadcast Holocaust films and documentaries. In the old days, when all media was local and conceived in real time, that did the trick. It was virtually impossible to go through the day without a real reminder.

Today, however, it is all too easy to escape a real-time 24-hour media blitz. Most of us don’t consume media when it actually airs. Our programs are stored on our VOD libraries or on our computer, or we can just watch international channels. And we don’t have to listen to the sad songs or programming on the radio when our devices are full of music and podcasts.

And many of us, of course, spend our leisure hours at the computer screen on Twitter or Facebook or Instagram or WhatsApp instead of in front of the TV.

So why shouldn’t those who want the world to “never forget” the Holocaust follow us - and our kids - there?