Enlightenment in 30 Seconds: How Holocaust Survivors and Former Concentration Camps Reach Young Users on TikTok. Her motto: “Don't give in, don't give up, don't forget!”
More with the help of TikTok learn about the Holocaust
A 15-year-old girl looks meaningfully at the camera with cupped cheeks to a song by US R&B singer Bruno Mars. In the teletext she explains synchronously that she is about to be deported to the concentration camp. Then, next, a young man in a striped uniform, who stages his supposed arrival in heaven – and tells that he was murdered in a gas chamber in the Auschwitz concentration camp. This reenactment trend of victim stories was August 2020's TikTok scandal of the summer. The actors mimed Holocaust victims, added music to their videos and pretended that they had perished in a concentration camp. The Auschwitz memorial called the hashtag challenge, in which Gen Z users (between 14 and 24 years old) portrayed Holocaust victims, “hurting and insulting”.
TikTok can also be different
< p>One of the young TikTokers then defended herself in an interview, saying the opposite was the case: she wanted to use her video to educate and raise awareness of the Holocaust. But the general public seemed to be largely in agreement at the time: short videos and Holocaust education on a platform that has become known for dance videos? That doesn't go together.
Memorial in the Neuengamme Memorial
Two years later, also in August. It's one of those rare hot summer days in Hamburg that doesn't happen often in northern Germany. Summer vacation and perfect beach weather – but David Gutzeit and his sister Jonna didn't get in the car to get to the sea. Instead, the schoolgirl and the 21-year-old student drove from the Baltic Sea coast to Hamburg-Neuengamme and are now standing in the glaring sun in front of carefully piled stones – they symbolize the prison barracks in which thousands of concentration camp inmates were crammed together.
The Neuengamme memorial commemorates more than 100,000 people from all over Europe who were imprisoned in the main camp and more than 85 satellite camps during the National Socialist era. Half of these people did not survive the concentration camp. “Actually, quite a few young people come here because they saw us on TikTok,” says Iris Groschek. The historian is responsible for the TikTok channel at the memorial.
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Novum: Memorial on TikTok
Neuengamme was the first concentration camp memorial to have its own TikTok account started in November 2021.
Holocaust survivor Gidon Lev in his Apartment in Ramat Gan in Israel
A courageous step – but an important one if you want to reach young people as a memorial on the Internet who are no longer on Facebook and Co., says Groschek. “It's not enough for me just to read about it in school books, I want to see and feel where these Nazi atrocities happened,” says David Gutzeit. He looks around, visibly moved. It's not the only young visitors today: there's Nicolas, 17, from Madrid, for example, who persuaded his parents to stop off in Neuengamme on their Germany sightseeing trip. The Americans Starlett from Kansas and Hannah from Hawaii also find out about the history of the concentration camp on this day. This snapshot is no coincidence: Studies show that Generation Z, i.e. young people born between 1995 and 2010, knows little about concentration camps, but is much more interested in the Nazi era than their parents' generation .
“We want to create visibility for the topic among the young target group and reach GenZ users on TikTok, who we would otherwise hardly be able to reach with our educational work on other platforms,” explains Groschek. The account now has 27,000 followers, videos keep going viral and reach an audience of millions.
Volunteers from Action Reconciliation support as creators
The creators are young volunteers from all over the world who work at the memorial as part of their commitment to the organization Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (AFS). “We're very careful that our videos don't overwhelm users emotionally. We want the community to learn something, for example to have a historical fact explained to them,” says Groschek.
“Reenactment of victim stories, that is We don't re-enact scenes, as is usual on TikTok.”
TikTok star reports on Holocaust experiences
This pioneering work has also inspired others. Neuengamme is no longer alone on TikTok, other concentration camp memorials such as Bergen-Belsen in Germany and Mauthausen in Austria followed.
And the numbers speak for themselves: Marlene Wöckinger, TikTok creator of the memorial, calculates that around 200,000 people would visit Mauthausen every year: “I can reach that many on TikTok with a video if it goes viral”. The memorial also practices dialogue-oriented education offline, so the step of going to the social media platform was not that difficult. “We don't preach, we engage in exchange – that can be easily transferred to TikTok. It's about building a community for us.”
Holocaust survivors have been on the platform for a little longer: For example, Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert, who, together with her great-grandson, has 1.9 million followers – the 99-year-old even follows dance trends, but always conveys information their story of survival.
Holocaust witnesses on TikTok
Or Gidon Lev, who survived the Theresienstadt concentration camp. For International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, 2023, the 88-year-old produced a video in cooperation with Neuengamme – it is part of a video series with a number of Holocaust memorials that he publishes on his TikTok channel. Why does he use TikTok for his educational work? “To my great dismay, hatred, violence, anti-Semitism and more have increased again in recent years,” says Lev. As a survivor, he has made it his mission to fight it and “to make the younger generation aware of this ugly, destructive phenomenon in every possible way. We have to tell the truth, warn of the dangers and fight back. Don't give up Give in, don't give up, don't forget!”
TikTok starts its own educational campaign
The platform itself has also recognized how popular the topic is: TikTok now automatically links to the information page aboutholocaust.org of the World Jewish Congress and Unesco for every video on the subject of the Holocaust. And has started its own “Shoah Education and Commemoration Initiative”, which has since been awarded the Shimon Peres Prize. With this initiative, TikTok supports 15 memorial sites – such as Neuengamme or Mauthausen – in which the platform offers workshops and exchanges in cooperation with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
“We must prevent the Holocaust from becoming just another chapter in a textbook is degraded,” says Yaki Lopez, head of public relations at the Israeli embassy in Berlin. “It is therefore important to adapt the commemoration of the Holocaust and the imparting of knowledge to the realities of life of the younger generation”. TikTok's Shoah Initiative is making an important contribution to this.
Daniel Carthwright is a TikToker and explains how to behave in a concentration camp
Holocaust Enlightenment on TikTok – of course, why shouldn't that work? This is how the users of the DW TikTok account Berlin Fresh react to a Concentration Camp Explainer series that DW shot in cooperation with the Neuengamme Memorial.
Rules of conduct for visiting a concentration camp
A look at the DW Berlin Fresh user data shows that the interest in the topic is actually very high: just one of the 30-second explainer videos in the DW series generated more than nine million video views – mainly at young people under 24. In it, TikToker Daniel Cartwright from the memorial explains how to behave when visiting a former concentration camp. “Three things you should never do at a former concentration camp” – from his personal perspective, i.e. as someone who is there every day.
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At the age of 23, explaining the horror every day via video, what does that do to you? “Sometimes the horrors of this place get to me,” says the Briton in the DW series. “But then I hear that young people are coming to the memorial because of our TikToks and want to find out more – then I realize how important our work is.”
Find more videos about Holocaust education on our TikTok channel DW Berlin Fresh.