Gidon Lev shares some of his memories on TikTok, with songs, memes and hashtags. He, who survived the Holocaust as a child, talks on social media about his experiences. And, at 87, he’s become a star especially among young users, some of whom refer to him as their “grandpa TikTok.”
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“I just think that despite all the horror, suffering, pain and cruelty, there are also good things and people in life. Sometimes you have to look for them and find them, but they exist”, says Lev, adding that “the young people can make the world a better place”.
“Life is before you, and we can make it better.”
Lev was born in 1935 in Carlsbad, now Karlovy Vary, in the Czech Republic. When he was six years old, he was taken with his family to the Theresienstadt (Terezin) concentration camp and ghetto near Prague, where his parents were forced to do forced labor: his father worked in a nearby mine, and his mother worked with other women. to process the mica.
“Periodically, the Germans would do what we call ‘Stichprobe,'” says Lev, using the German word for random sampling. The Nazis checked the amount of stones women processed.
“I suppose women who processed the indicated amount could stay. If they stayed, their children would stay too,” says Lev.
“I think I owe it to my mother, because she must have worked hard, done enough to stay until the end. That’s why I’m here today.”
Your father did not survive. He was deported by the Nazis from Theresienstadt to the Auschwitz concentration camp in Germany, where he was murdered. In all, Lev lost 26 of his relatives in the Holocaust.. In one of the videos he recorded, Lev shows off a pendant his father had given to his mother before he was forced to board the train to Auschwitz.
After the war, in 1945, he and his mother returned home for a brief period, then headed to the US and later to Canada. In 1959, Lev emigrated to Israel.
Despite all the difficulties and tragedies, Lev considers himself an optimist and doesn’t want to be defined as just a Holocaust survivor. But he worries about those who continue to deny what happened to millions of Jews and others persecuted by the Nazis.
Lev is also concerned about those currently spreading anti-Semitism, particularly on social media: “I know it exists, and it doesn’t take much to bring hate and cruelty to the surface. We’ve already seen it.”
Against Anti-Semitism and Holocaust Deniers
During the coronavirus pandemic, Lev urged followers of his TikTok videos not to compare measures like wearing face shields with Nazi tactics.
He also harshly criticized those who opposed vaccination and put a yellow star on their clothes. Under Nazi rule, every Jew had to wear a yellow Star of David.
“I was so angry, because this mask we wear is to protect ourselves and others from getting sick and sometimes even dying,” says Lev.
Referring to the yellow star, he says: “Exactly the opposite happened: it was to separate the Jews from the rest of the population, that is, to isolate, embarrass and humiliate them. It was not to protect them, but to demonize them in a certain way. form.”
Lev and his partner, Julie Gray, who produces the videos, were surprised by the success of the posts, which have already been seen and liked by millions of people.
In fact, the videos for TikTok were made to promote the book “The True Adventures of Gidon Lev” (in free translation), which Lev and Gray wrote together. But they turned the action into something bigger.
“For me, the importance of using TikTok is because there is a surprising lack of education about the Holocaust among young people,” says Gray, who is an editor. “So you can use TikTok – a medium that young people enjoy – with music, memes and hashtags to teach something.”
It’s not about educating about the Holocaust in 30 seconds. “What we do is inspire curiosity and make people say, ‘I want to learn more.’ We have to ask ourselves how we’re teaching about the Holocaust. Is it up to date and reaching people?” asks Gray.
Culture of memory in transformation
This changing landscape has been closely watched by Noa Mkayton, director of the Department of Education and Training Abroad at the International School of Holocaust Studies at Yad Vashem, Israel’s main Holocaust memorial located in Jerusalem.
She asserts that the culture of memory is never static and is constantly changing. And, more than 80 years after the end of World War II, there is another important reality: the generation of Holocaust survivors will soon disappear, and gatherings that bring together eyewitnesses and young people are becoming less and less frequent.
Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics said that about 165,000 people living in Israel are recognized by the state as Holocaust survivors.
“It has a huge impact because it removes a very personal connection to the theme, like, ‘this is my grandmother, this is my grandfather,'” says Mkayton, referring to Israel’s third and fourth generations of Holocaust descendants. .
New forms and expressions of memory are also emerging among the younger generation. “The question is, how can I express myself and what tool should I use? And if TikTok is used, for example, the material will only be a minute long – and no longer a long, introverted, balanced personal perspective. The language has simply changed “, says Mkayton. “We as educators and teachers may not be happy about it, but we must accept and deal with that fact.”
The debate over memory is not new. “Even 20 years ago, when teachers walked their 9th graders through the memorials, they panicked and worried if the students had left their gum and Walkmans on the bus. [como um sinal de respeito às vítimas]”, recalls Mkayton.
In the end, it all comes down to education. “The respect that the subject demands is a matter of education: how can I convey the subject in a way that they understand that it also has to do with you?”, he asks.
For Lev, social media – with all its advantages and disadvantages – is simply a tool to get your message across.
“When I think about the way the Germans were cruel and so inhuman to other humans, I can’t believe that these same people, this same nation gave us Bach, Handel and Brahms. And then they did what happened. How is that possible? But yeah,” says Lev.
“And I can only hope that there are enough young people who know what is right and try to do their best.”