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‘I so much want to live!’ Eva’s powerful message for the Instagram generation

Eva.Stories honors the intense desire to live that burns so strongly in humans when faced with adversity

“Eva.Stories” on Instagram, based on the original diary of Eva Heyman during the Holocaust, is an initiative to commemorate the Shoah in a way that would appeal to teenagers. Its release stirred debate in both traditional and social media around the world. Prior to its release, the project raised concerns about bringing the weighty issue of the Holocaust to an App often used for sharing the lighter moments of life such as beach photos and food pics.

The project was initiated and produced by multi millionaire Mati Kochavi and his daughter, who invested millions of dollars in the filming. Many reports have been written about the Kochavi company called AGT International, which in 2007, won the $6 billion bid to set up surveillance and monitoring systems in Abu Dhabi. It became the most comprehensive integrated security system in the world at the time. From 2007 through 2015, AGT installed thousands of cameras, sensors, and license-plate readers along the U.A.E.’s 620-mile international border and throughout Abu Dhabi. The UAE is an authoritarian regime that ranked 147th on the Economist 2018 Democracy Index

Some Israelis criticised the project initiated by Matti Kochavi for trivializing the Holocaust and dumbing it down. “I’m young, and nobody had to make the Holocaust more accessible for me,”  one commenter wrote on the project’s Instagram page. “I took an interest on my own. This is genocide – not a PR project for Instagram. Do me a favor.”

Once the film was released on Yom Hashoah in Israel, much of the criticism vanished due to the immense popularity of the project, with the Instagram page receiving over 100 million views in the first 14 hours after it was posted on Instagram.

Watching the story during the day, in different locations around Jerusalem such as from the light rail, on a bus, in my office and at home in bed, was quite a moving experience. I had never thought to consume holocaust films in any of these places before. Seeing it on my phone with headphones also brought both Eva’s voice, and those of the Nazis who tormented her, close to me in a way that wouldn’t have happened had I seen this on a big screen at a cinema.

Whilst I was initially put off by the hashtags and emojis in the earlier stories, after I became used to them, I could see the value they add in making the characters more real in the eyes of the viewers. The contrast to this storytelling device of making Eva more human in each story, as the Nazis were trying to make her and all Jews less human as time went on, was very powerful.

In response to the project, David Bryfman, Chief Innovation Officer at The Jewish Education Project, explained: “Education is always about reaching an appropriate balance between what Michael Rosenak z”l called authenticity versus relevance. If something is so “authentic” and has no resonance then it will largely go ignored. If it is only relevant but lacks authenticity then we just acquiesce to what people think that they want to know or experience.”

Bryfman praised the initiative saying that  “Eva’s story on Instagram is an incredible example of making the authentic story relevant to a generation. Undoubtedly some will be upset that this project has reduced a story to a series of images. But over 100 million people have now been exposed to Eva, and by extension, 6 million.”

The debate around using new platforms to tell Holocaust stories reminded me of similar concerns around Schindler’s list when it was first released in 1993. Spielberg’s film had a scene where water, instead of Zyklon B, came out in a gas chamber. Some worried that people would see it as a documentary, rather than a fictionalised adaptation of a true story. The fact that it was filmed in black and white heightened this concern. Ultimately, it is now used frequently in Holocaust education, perhaps more than actual documentaries such as Claude Lanzman’s Shoah.

I think the choice to film Eva’s story in colour, rather than black and white, made it look more authentic. It reminded each viewer of the horror that happens when all the norms of liberal democracy are erased. A very authentic and important message for our age.

One of the most moving moments for me was when Eva was in the ghetto, and cried out “I so much want to live” in spite of the horror surrounding her. In the midst of so much trauma she endures throughout the story, Eva never once contemplates taking her life, and always seeks to find meaning in each daily story she posts, whilst yearning to be free.

Even though she never once picked up a gun or resisted the Nazis through violent means, in my eyes, her bravery in documenting her story was no less that those who laid their lives to die fighting in the Warsaw Ghetto uprising.

Like Dr. Emanuel Ringelblum whose resistance involved documenting the story of Ghetto life through the Oneg Shabbat archive project, Eva is no less a hero.

Her outlook on life reminded me of the way French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre paid tribute to the heroism of those who fought against the Nazi occupation during World War 2. He wrote in 1944, “Never were we freer than under the German occupation. We had lost all our rights, and first of all our right to speak. They insulted us to our faces. … They deported us en masse. … And because of all this we were free.”

For Sartre, who lived in Paris during the war, the courage to resist suffering was “the secret of a man.”

Sartre says that “it was of all people the Nazis who bestowed on every act of ours, every word, vast meaning: To resist? To remain silent? Life in occupied Paris was a grand and fateful moral adventure. It had meaning.”

This outlook echoes Victor Frankl who approvingly quotes the words of Nietzsche: “He who has a Why to live for, can bear almost any How.”

Let us all hope that in each moment, we are blessed to find meaning in all we do, to strive for world where the actions of Nazis are never repeated. May we also strive to defend the values of liberal democracy and always remember that the laws introduced by the democratically elected Nazi Party to demonize the Jewish population are not unique in history.

Acknowledging the intense desire to live that burns so strongly in humans when faced with adversity, may we always struggle to uphold the human rights of all oppressed minorities, so that Eva’s story is never repeated.

לא עליך המלאכה לגמור, ולא אתה בן חורין ליבטל ממנה

The duty is not ours to complete, but neither are we free to desist from this mission.

About the Author
Ittay Flescher is a freelance journalist and educator in Jerusalem.
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