Gen Z’s Perception of the Holocaust

By now, I am sure that everyone reading this article knows about TikTok, the social media platform that has taken the world by storm. The platform is all about sharing videos and trying to get featured on the ‘For You’ recommendations page for other users, in order to receive more views. This results in the video maker’s fifteen seconds of fame. Creators have taken this in various directions: some have chosen the comedy route, others have tried to show off their talents (dancing in particular), and others have been accused of using their looks to gain followers. Regardless of the way it started, many people have become so concerned with obtaining their fifteen seconds of fame that some stopped thinking some of their decisions through.

Over the past few months, there have been several trends, which catch on and are recreated by thousands of TikTok users. Many of these trends are innocent and entertaining, but one that does not fit either of those adjectives is the Holocaust trend. This trend involved people dressing up as Holocaust victims (wearing yellow stars, striped shirts, and creating bruises with their makeup), some even used the backdrop of a Nazi concentration camp, and others pretended that they were in heaven and told their Holocaust story. Some TikTokers pretended to die in their showers, and some acted as if they were walking towards a gas chamber. Needless to say, many people on this platform were appalled by the trend and called out some of the people who made these videos. Although this trend is no longer in play it is important to talk about how we, as a Jewish community, can respond to such uploads.

After the backlash, many people came out to say that they created these videos in order to reach out to the younger generation and educate them about the horrors of the Holocaust. They chose to use a platform with which they were comfortable, and knew that younger people were as well. These TikTokers figured that this would be a good way to bring awareness, especially at a time when Holocaust denial is at a rise. We all know the saying, it’s the thought that counts. It follows that we should be able to forgive these users while still showing them the error in their judgement. There are, after all, much better ways to educate young people about the Holocaust, even on TikTok. 

Sadly, this was not the case for many others who uploaded Holocaust trend videos. Many had the goal of making fun of the atrocities that occurred in the Holocaust and created a form of denial, sending the message that, “It couldn’t have been that bad; why are you Jews always complaining about it?” Some uploaders went so far as to compare IDF soldiers to Nazi criminals. This made it difficult to forget or justify. 

Is it enough to just ignore such videos? This is a question that I had asked myself when I first came across them. I didn’t know what the best solution was, but I couldn’t just keep scrolling. Although I am definitely not a social media expert, this is what I have learned so far:

  • The comments section makes a difference. More often than not, people who are offended by certain posts choose not to do anything about them because they don’t think anything they write will make a difference to the original poster. I used to be one of those people, but now, I am here to inform you that this is not the case! How many times have any of you scrolled through the comments of a TikTok video, or other social media post because you didn’t understand a joke? Or maybe, you wanted to make sure that you were not the only one that found it funny? People go through the comments all the time which makes it all the more important to call out people who are including false, offensive, or even harmful information in their videos. That way, when someone doesn’t know anything about the topic (which is usually the vast majority of viewers) and looks through the comments section for some more information, they will learn that there are multiple points of view and that the video posted is not the word of God. That being said, you are definitely not expected to write a five-paragraph essay teaching them about Jewish history; it would suffice to write, this is not true followed by a little bit of information on how you know that.
  • All of these people are not necessarily antisemitic. I know, the first reaction for us (the people have been educated about the Holocaust all our lives) is to call these people antisemitic, and leave it at that. Here is the thing… many of these people have not been as well-educated about the genocide as we have been. They don’t come from an evil place, just an ignorant one, so the best way to react is to educate. Try letting these people know a little more about the topic. Express the reason that you found the video offensive. This could even be a great lesson for us to learn. If we don’t know enough about a topic, we should never pretend we do because we could easily be spreading offensive misinformation, which is the last thing any of us want.
  • Comparing Israel to Nazi Germany, or the IDF to Nazi soldiers is antisemitic. In this case, using education is incredibly important, primarily for all the people who will be seeing the video without knowing the truth. Such statements try to erase the significance and uniqueness of the Holocaust, while also attacking the validity of Israel as a state. The best way to go about this is to be very clear about what kind of things Israel does today and explicitly writing the difference between that and the atrocities of the Holocaust. Some arguments can include: Israel has given equal citizenship status to all of its citizens regardless of religion and has never done anything to exterminate a group of people, whereas the Holocaust was a genocide that murdered eleven million innocent people (you definitely don’t have to only talk about the Jews, bring up the murder of the communists, the disabled, the Romas, the LGBTQ+ community, etc).   

Remember: your voice matters. Use it. People care what you have to say.

About the Author
Eli Yissar Josefson is a high school student in Toronto, Canada where she is the school's newspaper editor. She has had a passion for Israel ever since she can remember and has been involved with Hasbara Fellowships Canada for three years where she has published several political articles involving Israel and the United States.
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