Young Israelis reflect on the Holocaust

As the number of Holocaust survivors dwindle, education changes

Traffic stops as people stand in place for Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, April 8, 2021. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Traffic stops as people stand in place for Holocaust Remembrance Day in Israel, April 8, 2021.
With each passing year, there are fewer Holocaust survivors living among us. Now, in keeping with 60 years’ emphasis on personal narrative as the model, new technology is being used to teach the younger generation, in an effort to ensure that “never again” remains a reality.
This Holocaust Remembrance Day (Yom Hashoah in Hebrew), Israel’s annual day of commemoration that began at sundown on Wednesday, young Israelis reflect on the genocide.
Dr. Robert Rozett, senior historian at the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, said the majority of Holocaust education centers on personal testimony of survivors and that the majority of those who are still alive were children during the Holocaust. As time passes, the opportunity to hear survivors’ stories in person becomes rarer. As a consequence, education centering on new technology has become more and more important.
“The media is coming into play more than ever,” he told The Media Line, citing as an example a graphic art competition as one Yom Hashoah commemoration event. This activity, like other forms of new media, is “bringing in a younger generation.”
In 2019, Mati Kochavi and his daughter Maya created the Eva Stories project, based on the written testimony of Eva Heyman, a 13-year-old Hungarian Jew who, along with her grandparents, died in Auschwitz in August 1944. Through videos posted on Instagram in May 2019, Eva shares her experiences during the war as if it were happening today, with the character filming what is happening around her with her phone. Last year, the project was also put on the Snapchat platform.
“I think using technology to further Holocaust education is great. It’s a good way to make it relevant and I think it made a lot of young people understand it in a personal way and not just in a ‘boring’ historical way,” Katherine Leff, 25, told The Media Line.
Sophia Segal, 27, who asked to be identified by her middle name, said her younger cousins in America have responded to this method of teaching.
“My grandmother was a Holocaust survivor so I do not need tech to relate to the Holocaust. She died when my twin cousins were three. They do not have the same connection to the Holocaust as I do,” she told The Media Line. “They can’t sit still, so listening to a teacher in a classroom or reading a book just doesn’t work for them. The Eva Stories got their attention.”
In Israel, however, young people very much feel the presence of the Holocaust in their lives.
“I am more Zionistic because of the Holocaust,” Micha Tick, 26, told The Media Line. “I understand why the country is important and why I have to do some of the things I have to do for my country.
“The Holocaust is a scar on the Jewish people and usually you can do a few things with a scar, ignore it or accept it and learn the lesson. The lesson that the Holocaust teaches us is that the world can be cruel and sometimes we as Jews have to unite and be together so that something like this does not happen again,” Tick said.
The impact of the Holocaust is not confined to just Jewish Israelis.
“I live in a country that is very traumatized by that experience and has that national ethos of surviving and rising up against evil and rebuilding a state and independence. The Holocaust, in that sense, is very present,” Muhammad Zoabi, a 23-year-old Arab Israeli, told The Media Line.
“Another thing that most Jewish Israelis don’t get is the anxiety I get from the presence of the Holocaust and the Holocaust story. A lot of my friends growing up were descendants of Holocaust survivors. … I feel that I have a personal connection to it,” he continued. “Hearing the [survivors’] experiences about what it felt like as the Holocaust was coming makes me anxious as a minority.”
For Leff, one of her most indelible memories about the Holocaust came during a trip to Berlin, when she visited a Holocaust memorial and saw children running around and playing with their parents.
“At first I was appalled. How could they play and jump and laugh in such a terrible place, how disrespectful. The juxtaposition of life with death was too much to handle, but it was that very juxtaposition that opened my eyes to the life the Jews had before they met their untimely deaths. … The smiling kids and looming concrete sparked an intense sadness in me that made my visit incredibly powerful. Instead of letting that sadness spark rage, I simply let myself sit with it,” she said. “Instead of rage, I choose gratitude. I am grateful that I have a country to call my own and I am grateful that I have a day to reflect on that gratitude.”
As a result, Yom Hashoah serves as a reminder of how lucky she feels to be secure in Israel.
“I feel so incredibly safe in Israel. Safe to be Jewish in any way that I choose. Holocaust Remembrance Day offers us a chance to be grateful for that safety and understand its terrible cost,” she said.
Leff said that Yom Hashoah also revives an awareness that anti-Semitism is still problematic today.
“It is a reminder, that even today, anti-Semitism is still in our midst. When I travel abroad, I am often offered pieces of advice such as ‘Best not to speak Hebrew in public…’ and whether it is ‘safe’ to wear my Jewish star necklace openly,” she said.