Last Wednesday night/Thursday was Yom Hashoah, the day when we remember the Holocaust and the 6m who were murdered. Jews around the world commemorate their loss, and vow never again. In Israel, in the morning, air raid sirens are heard and the country comes to a stand still.
This year an Instagram account Eva.stories (https://www.instagram.com/stories/highlights/17860421761386848/) was created in which a girl Insta stories as if she were insta storying through the Holocaust, in a way like a modern teenager might do to her life as it were happening today. You watch as she enjoys her life and the freedom she has in pre-occupied Hungary. You watch as slowly things begin to deteriorate, with her grandfathers pharmacy being requisitioned by the state because Jews are no longer allowed to own property and she’s called a dirty Jew by passers by on the street. You watch as she films overheard conversations from her worried parents about what will happen if the Nazis do invade, whilst meanwhile her best friend has been taken off to Poland ‘without her suitcase’. You watch as the Nazis arrive and the Jewish school is closed and she’s forced to wear a yellow star. And you watch as the Nazis tear apart houses in the neighbourhood and load her and her family into a truck as they send all the Jews in the city to the ghetto. It continues and I can only imagine how it will continue as it shows this girls poor fate together with all the Jews at the time and I wonder if I will be able to keep watching knowing how much worse there is to come.
But it got me thinking – What if there had of been Instagram, Twitter and Facebook at the time? What if Eva and other Jews at the time could have live documented their fate via social media for the world to see and bare witness to in real time so that they may have acted quicker and saved 6million lives before it was too late?
Would the countries who gathered for the Evian conference in 1938 have opened their doors to Jewish refugees in greater numbers rather than shutting their gates and condemning them to the slaughter that followed? Would they have quicker gone to war to challenge Hitler and the Nazis before they had a stranglehold over most of Europe rather than appeasing as they did in Munich in 1938?
Or would they, despite the clear documented evidence of what was emerging visible across social media, act in the very same way again and wait too long and fail to stand up appropriately as 6m Jews were sent to the slaughter?
But then you remember Twitter, Instagram and Facebook are all available today. We have the ability to be more aware of things going on across the world as they happen and when they happen. We hear immediately when a gunman opens fire in a synagogue in Pittsburgh, a mosque in Christchurch or suicide bombers blow up churches in Colombo. We can see documented very clearly when people level anti-Semitic or other racist abuse at people over these social media platforms. We have documented evidence where people in their pasts have said racist things or met with rather grotesque individuals who openly believe these things.
We see the responses of the majority of individuals who may offer their “thoughts and prayers” when an individual event occurs but quickly go back to their lives purposefully ignorant or unwilling to accept a growing trend. We see people defending the perpetrators, justifying their actions as being due to some previous grievance or painting them in a way that it was ‘out of character’ and really ‘they’re a good person’ or their comments taken ‘out of context’.
The sad reality is that if Social Media had been available at the time Eva’s story would have been trolled. She would have been accused of spreading fake news, she would have suffered even more anti-Semitic abuse online and the best she could have hoped for was ‘thoughts and prayers’ from around the world.
People on the ‘left’ like to tell you that the greatest evil was as a result of the unchecked rise of the far right and keeping that in check is the best way to prevent the evils of the past from recurring. People in the ‘centre’ like to point out the the danger on both extremes and how we need to just provide a better world for those of society ignored to prevent a recurrence. People on the ‘right’ believe the far right is in check and have you believe that the real danger is the threat of the far left and how in their pursuit of a socialist paradise the unholy alliances they are prepared to engage in that is causing the problem. But these are all just labels and an excuse to say ‘it isn’t me’ and do nothing.
The Nazis may have been the chief perpetrators, but they were not alone. The Ukrainians, Poles, Latvians, Russian, French citizens and others who fell under Nazi rule all had people who played a part in sending their Jewish citizens to their death. Timothy Snyder in his book “Black Earth” pointed out that it was often the same lower level police officers who provoked fear in the name of Stalin in Eastern Europe (Poland & Ukraine) who all too easily were the ones willing to carry out the Nazi terror when they then arrived.
It didn’t matter.
Today antisemitism is again on the rise at a frightening pace. Some of it is starting from the depths of social media. Old antisemitic tropes dragged up and republished for an even wider audience than before. Some of them inspiring real physical acts of antisemitism from shootings & bombings to beatings and intimidation. There are those, left, right and centre who speak up, who say more than just “thoughts and prayers”. But most of them do just say and if it came to it it’s not clear whether they would be prepared to act. Like those at Evian who saw and felt for the plight of the Jews but shut their doors nonetheless.
The modern immediacy of information from social media should give you the hope that never again would be able to mean never again. The excuse of ‘not really knowing what was going on’ no longer being able to apply. But the evidence thus far suggests that despite Eva’s pleas, the world would still sit on and watch until it was too late.“