When the International Holocaust Remembrance Day Becomes a National Embarrassment

A campaign showing a pop star against a backdrop of children in the Holocaust, and a deepfake video of Hitler’s lover interviewing the Polish prime minister is one NGO’s attempt to keep the Holocaust relevant for the youth

Eitan Leshem
The campaign image of Eden Ben Zaken on Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv.
The campaign image of Eden Ben Zaken on Azrieli Tower in Tel Aviv.
Eitan Leshem

In recent years, Jewish organizations have faced a difficult task: keeping the International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which falls on Thursday, relevant for younger generations and increasing awareness of it around the globe.

One example of the way winds are blowing for such campaigns was Eva’s Story, a 2019 Instagram campaign that tried to make the Holocaust more accessible to young people. But this year, it seems, we’ve reached new heights of cringeworthiness, in the form of singer Eden Ben Zaken, shown against a backdrop of children in the Holocaust trapped behind barbed wire. This is where the head-scratching starts.

A Twitter user wishing an 'Easy Holocaust Day to whoever observes it'

Anyone passing by Tel Aviv’s Azrieli towers in recent days could not escape a giant ad flashing across the electronic screen there, showing Ben Zaken (in color), with children from the Holocaust (not in color) behind her, with the caption “No Story, History!” under which is an web address with the same name. Along with dumbfounded laughter over the display, online commentators have also expressed curiosity regarding the motivations – and people – behind the bizarre picture flashing over Tel Aviv.

Behind the campaign is a non-profit organization called Chasdei Naomi, a charity group known from another campaign called “Mom, you promised us chicken for Shabbat.” The charity, whose main work consists of helping the destitute in Israel, did not make do with the flashing screen alone (which was likely rather costly). It also put up a designated website, which the campaign leads people to, in which it posts a low-quality deepfake video (that is, it uses an existing picture to depict someone else’s image) of Hitler’s lover Eva Braun interviewing Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki.

Trucks with the campaign in Poland.Credit: Screenshot from a PR video

In the course of this “interview,” Braun confronts the Polish prime minister over Poland’s part in the Holocaust, apropos of the troubling campaign waged by Poland’s government in recent years defining the country as a victim of the Nazis, rather than as collaborators. Chasdei Naomi has a turnover of tens of millions of shekels a year, mostly coming from donations in Israel and overseas (as well as a few hundred thousand shekels from the state). This seems to be outside the usual bounds of the organization’s goals, wading into the diplomatic tussle between Israel and Poland regarding the actions of the latter’s government.

Another Haredi organization, Yad Vaezer, is also campaigning to help impoverished Holocaust survivors, and it too has recruited a celebrity to help out. In this case, it’s model and TV host Yael Bar Zohar, who appears with tousled hair and a seductive gaze, as if representing a perfume company rather than the annihilation of Europe’s Jews.

The low-quality deepfake video of Eva Braun.

Judging by the social media traffic, while these campaigns were supposedly meant to make waves, they seem to have faltered. On all the social media platforms on which they were displayed, they only logged a few dozen views.

As part of the campaign, Eden Ben Zaken released a special song, written for her by Holocaust survivor and poet Ilana Klein, in honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day. She also noted that photos from the campaign were posted on cars and trucks carrying large ads across Poland. One can only guess what Poles think of Hitler’s companion interviewing their prime minister. And yet, it seems that these campaigns don’t have that much international impact, so what’s the point of posting such an expensive ad in such a central location in Tel Aviv? Only the charity group knows the answer. We’re left with nothing but the embarrassment.

Israeli actress and TV host Yael Bar Zohar in the campaign for destitute Holocausts survivors. Credit: Screenshot from the Walla Celebs Instagram

Ofer Menachem, Eden Ben Zaken’s public relations manager, told the media that “Eden Pessia Ben Zaken’s middle name was given to her in memory of her great-grandmother who was in the Holocaust. She was chosen for this campaign in order to start a conversation, and indeed it has. The organization chose Ben Zaken so that people would see a familiar face and the campaign would work. Eden Ben Zaken drives public opinion and that’s why she’s leading the campaign on her own – and people take note of a campaign that creates a broad discussion.”

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