An Instagram account that brings to life the diary of a young Holocaust victim garnered more than 120 million views in just over 24 hours, earning praise for its ability to bring the horrors of the Holocaust to a new generation of social media-savvy millennials at a time when the numbers of survivors are dwindling.
Launched to coincide with Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday evening, Eva.Stories chronicles the downward spiral of 13-year-old Eva Heyman’s life in the spring of 1944 when the Nazis conquered Hungary.
The series of 70 Instagram stories created by tech guru Mati Kochavi and his daughter Maya are based on the diary left behind by Eva that the Kochavis worked into a screenplay for the project.
The account has drawn over 1.3 million followers with 50 percent of the people viewing it being between the ages of 13-30, according to the Globes business daily. Just three million of the first 100 million viewers were from Israel, demonstrating the project’s success in reaching audiences around the world.
Channel 12 news columnist Dror Globerman lauded the Instagram account’s ability to “redefine ‘commemoration.'”
“Until now, commemorating was a big stone with the names of those who perished… A black-and-white audiovisual show with… tragic background below. The stone will stand forever, the film will play in the loops until the power goes out. But what did we want to commemorate? The stone and the film, or the memory and consciousness of young people?” he wrote Thursday.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu posted a video ahead of the project’s launch, urging Israelis to follow the account and spread stories of survivors via social media in order to “remind ourselves what we lost in the Holocaust and what was returned to us by the creation of the state of Israel.”
“What if a girl in the Holocaust had Instagram?” asks the trailer, released on Sunday. The brief film shows simulated cellphone footage of Heyman’s fictionalized life, from dancing with friends and a birthday with her grandparents, to Nazi troops marching through the streets of Budapest.
“This is my page for random thoughts, crushes, #BFFS,” the actress playing Heyman cheerily declares in the beginning of the trailer. “One day I’ll be a famous reporter, but for now I live with my grandparents.”
Heyman was one of approximately 430,000 Hungarian Jews who were deported to Nazi concentration camps between May 15 and July 9, 1944. Of the estimated 6 million Jews killed in the Holocaust, around 568,000 were Hungarian, according to Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial.
But with the millions of views came criticism from those who accused the Kochavis of trivializing the Holocaust and cheapening the memory of one of its Jewish victims.
Haaretz’s Yuval Mendelson argued the project had been “in bad taste” and predicted it would lead to “selfie-taking at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau.”
The left-wing daily’s Chaim Levinson said in a tweet that the characters were “boring and superficial” and that people had been critical of the content. They only changed their minds after hearing how many views it got, he said. “Suddenly it’s brilliant. really!,” he said.
But the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial Museum defended the project, calling the use of social media platforms to commemorate the Holocaust “legitimate and effective.”
The Kochavis themselves have responded to critics in various interviews earlier this week, asserting that those offended don’t know how Instagram works and that they were simply utilizing one medium people nowadays use to communicate.
AP contributed to this report