Tattoo-based Holocaust education tool causes stir

Critics call idea of wearing Auschwitz-like numbers ‘cynical’; families praise use of technology to remember

Aaron Kalman is a former writer and breaking news editor for the Times of Israel

A Holocaust survivor with a number tattooed on his forearm puts on Tefillin (photo credit: Flash90)
A Holocaust survivor with a number tattooed on his forearm puts on Tefillin (photo credit: Flash90)

A new Holocaust education initiative has kicked up a small storm, with some people slamming the idea while others, including survivors and their families, embrace it.

The initiative calls for the distribution of fake tattoos that participants will place on their forearms, bearing numbers assigned to real survivors of Nazi concentration camps. Using the cameras on their smartphones, the new tattoo-wearer can scan a small barcode next to the number and watch the survivor tell his or her story.

Dozens of survivors participated in the campaign, which was initiated by a prominent Israeli advertising firm that filmed their testimonies and formatted them for the application’s special website, a report in Maariv said Thursday.

Putting numbers on one’s arm is tasteless and “makes cynical use of the Holocaust,” said former Labor MK Colette Avital, who heads an umbrella organization for groups aiding Holocaust survivors. “We immediately rejected the initiative. It’s unthinkable that children stick such stickers — it cheapens the Holocaust.”

But Yitzhak Faran told the newspaper that he and his family had been looking for a way to remember his late mother, who survived the horrors of Auschwitz. After realizing that the initiative was driven by genuinely “positive and pure” intentions, he gave it his blessing, he said.

“This project will expose children and teenagers to videos in which my mother tells what she went through, about her life as a true survivor,” Faran was quoted as saying. “Harnessing today’s technology to connect like this to the young generation is a blessing. It was always important to her that people remember what happened there.”

The initiative was developed by Bauman-Bar-Ribanai, an Israeli advertising firm belonging to the international Saatchi & Saatchi company. In a statement to Maariv, the firm said the idea was to connect teenagers to the “real people” behind the numbered tattoo.

“We saw last year when students disrupted the play ‘Ghetto’ on Holocaust memorial day,” the statement said, “the new, young generation is losing its connection with the survivors who are still alive. That’s the connection we wanted to strengthen in this campaign — between Holocaust remembrance and the survivors themselves and the youth who are already living in a new world.”

read more: