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Tik Tok & Holocaust Education

Many people have told Gidon and me that it is ridiculous to use Tik Tok as a platform to reach out to younger generations about the story of Gidon’s life, Holocaust education, and standing up and speaking out against hate and intolerance.

It’s true; Tik Tok has a reputation for being a silly (understatement) platform with very little content of merit. You see, Tik Tok is a platform on which anyone can be creative in 60, 30, or even 15 seconds. It democratizes content, which means anything goes. There is no shortage of vapid, sometimes even offensive, or just plain sad stuff.

Tik Tok is a content creators platform — not sharers, like Facebook, and not image-groomers/FOMO-fomenters like Instagram. (Yes, I’m on Instagram too, and I openly admit its somewhat facile utility.)

But the good news is that more than a few creators on Tik Tok share valuable information in very creative ways. I have come upon many accounts that are well worth following. @Jewishunpacked is definitely an excellent account to follow, as is @HolocaustEducation On the lighter side of things, @Khaby.lame is hysterical, and both @Historyfordummies and @the.historynerd are both #wins for history buffs. And there are many more. You just have to keep swiping up.

We are most certainly not the first in this space; Holocaust survivor Lily Ebert and her grandson Dov have amassed over one million followers on Tik Tok.

In The True Adventures, I wrote a lot about the fate of Gidon’s family and what Gidon’s personal experience was like. But it was impossible not to cast the net much more widely and talk about the conditions that led to the Holocaust. Especially given the sorry state of affairs in the 21st century: The sharp rise in antisemitism and nationalism, hate, ignorance, and intolerance toward minorities.

I was pushed and pulled by an overarching worry: What happens when the last Holocaust survivors are gone from this earth? What will we do then?

Gidon will be 87 in March 2022. Every day that I have with him is a gamble and a gift. By writing a book about his life, I have inherited a responsibility and adopted a mission. Gidon may not be with us for as long as I’d like, but if my luck holds out, I will be around for a few more decades. And I’m not going to stop reaching out, talking about hate, its consequences, and its antidotes.

Spoiler: Hatred antidotes include but are not limited to history, empathy, tolerance, productive and positive discourse.

Holocaust museums worldwide have tried everything: video exhibits, participatory experiences, shocking photos, impressive displays, and breath-taking design. It hasn’t worked. Antisemitism is back. (In fact, it never really went away.) Check out this video by Unpacked for a primer about antisemitism’s history — and trajectory.

We can no longer rely only on museums or educational institutions to teach these lessons, hard as they have tried to reach out and engage. We must go where the people are: Youtube, Tik Tok, Twitter, Instagram, or on whatever Next New Social Media thing.

We MUST update, innovate, collaborate and reach out about not just Holocaust education but understanding history full stop, cultivating more empathy, and standing up against hate in all its forms.

At 86 years old, Gidon isn’t really able to make a Tik Tok go viral — unless he stars in it — and that is just what he did, with my help and that of a fantastic content creator and strategist.

Is it silly? Maybe. But this Tik Tok went viral, with over 273.7K views and thousands of warm, grateful, and kind comments, thanking Gidon for answering questions.

Yes, we got some potshots from some “clout chasing” idiots, tossing out some incredibly mean and strange replies, but they were blocked and reported for hate speech. I didn’t let Gidon see those comments, and I must stress, they have been in a tiny minority.

I am learning, though, that these trolls use a kind of coded language in their attempts not to get banned. “Jesuits” instead of “Jews” and things like that. My take away though, is that because 99.9% of our followers have been grateful and interested — we’re going to keep on going.

Do you think the Holocaust could happen again?

Gidon gets asked this question almost every day on Tik Tok. The answer is “Yes.” Sort of.

With our smartphones and social media, no — that kind of industrialized, state-sanctioned, ultra-organized killing apparatus would be easily detected today. We live in a different era.

But — yes. The conditions that made the Holocaust possible are very much present in the world today. The internet, which might have very quickly revealed the horrors of the Holocaust, has been weaponized to spread hate, fear, and disinformation and is not powerful enough to take on a totalitarian state like China where Uighurs are simply hidden from the global eye. Because social media was much less evolved at the time, the atrocities in Bosnia and Rwanda were largely covered by news media only. Even when IRL footage got out — some Serb, Croat, and Bosnians actually videoed many of their most atrocious acts — what did the world do in response? Not enough.

With so much sensational media grabbing at our attention, briefly, we might pay attention to footage of Afghans clinging to planes. But other slow-motion events, like state-sponsored opposition silencing (and murder), exclusionary laws, arms build-ups on borders, an increasingly hobbled NATO, etc. passes us by as uninteresting. Yet, these seemingly glacial movements can lead to gross human rights violations, destruction, and hate. To many, the Nazis were refreshing in their destructive ways. Make Germany great again! Restore the economy! Put those Jewish interlopers in their place! The Jews will not replace us!

It's tempting to stay numb and carry on. We don't have the luxury.

Tik Tok is a strange, sprawling landscape of cultures and sub-cultures that intersect, compete, compliment, and do battle with one another. Here and there are bright spots of light; who doesn’t like to see a puppy chasing a duck? And there are dark swathes of irredeemably dumb or depressing stuff. But there are also teenagers in Indonesia showing off their dance moves. And there’s this 86 year-old Holocaust survivor getting his message out in ways he never thought possible. And there are people responding.


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