That was the question posed by a new online project called "Eva Stories," launched today as Israel marks Holocaust Remembrance Day.
“Eva Stories” is a dramatic online portrayal of Eva Heyman, a 13-year-old teenager who perished in the Holocaust. Her story is told as though Eva had a smartphone in 1944 during WWII and is posting her experiences on her Instagram account @eva.stories.
The innovative social media story, which hopes to capture the attention of Israel’s phone-gripped youth, is based on the real-life experiences of Eva Heyam, a young Jewish girl who kept a regular diary right up until the days she was sent to a Nazi death camp, where she was then murdered.
The @eva.stories Instagram account went live for the start of Israel’s annual Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening. A massive advertising campaign promoting the project has drawn some controversy as to whether a social media platform like Instagram is appropriate for a serious look at the Holocaust. Proponents argue that this is the best and perhaps only way to get their attention and teach youth about the history of the Holocaust.
As of this writing, @eva.stories has over 700,000 followers in less than 24 hours since it was activated. Throughout Holocaust Memorial Day, short episodes are being upload as an actress playing Eva shows her Instagram followers what it was like when she and her family were forced out of their hometown in Hungary (in 1944, the year Eva wrote her diary, more than 400,000 Hungarian Jews were deported to Auschwitz). We follow Eva as she copes with wearing a yellow Jewish star, and see her horror as she watches Nazi stormtroopers harassing her mother.
Through the lens of Eva’s phone, we see her taken with her family from their beautiful life and home, packed into a filthy truck and thrown into the overcrowded, disease-infested ghetto. Through Eva’s selfie camera, followers can feel as though they are right there with her as she's forced onto a train that will transport her to Auschwitz, the Nazi death camp from which she never returns.
Some 400 people were involved in the production. Mati Kochavi, an Israeli tech executive who produced the clips together with his daughter, developed a camera that the actress portraying Eva could hold like a phone. Tanks and truck were resourced, and extensive scenery recreated on set in Ukraine, where the production was filmed.
The Kochavi’s say they created “Eva Stories” in an effort to educate phone-connected post-millennials on Holocaust history and encourage them to remember the survivors who will soon no longer be with us. The Kochavis said the nonprofit project cost less than $5 million dollars to produce.
Despite criticisms that the smartphone world of selfies and stickers and emojis is an inappropriate platform to portray the horrors of the Holocaust, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu endorsed the project days before it went online. My wife and I have been deeply moved by following the Instagram account. Yad Vashem, Jerusalem’s distinguished Holocaust memorial, put out a statement that while it had not yet seen the project, “Yad Vashem believes that the use of social media platforms in order to commemorate the Holocaust is both legitimate and effective.”
Eva was killed in Auschwitz on Oct. 17, 1944, one of 1.5 million children murdered in the Holocaust. Her mother, Agnes Zsolt, survived the Holocaust and found her daughter's diary when she returned to their home in Hungary. She eventually committed suicide.
On Thursday morning, sirens wailed across Israel, and the entire country stood in silence as one to mourn and remember. By the end of the day, Eva's Instagram story will also come to an end.