Can you use Snapchat to convey complex issues such as the atrocities of the Holocaust? Young journalists in Germany say it's possible and want to use the app to highlight remembrance.
Most people turn to Snapchat for a healthy dose of fun, using filters to humorously change their appearance. Whether you want to decorate your portrait with dog ears or change the proportions of your face, it's usually all fun and games on the popular app. Should you decide to send your fun videos and photos to your friends, your interactions tend to be short-lived: The app automatically erases the content of the messages a few seconds after they are viewed.
Now a group of 16 young journalists-in-training at the Axel Springer Academy in Berlin have turned to Snapchat to communicate the horrors of the Holocaust. They say they came up with the idea after meeting 94-year-old Holocaust survivor Margot Friedländer, who told the group, "One day I will be dead. It's up to you now to serve as witnesses to this part of history when we no longer can."
This is how the Snapchat project "sachor jetzt!" started in December 2016, a Hebrew-German portmanteau which translates as "remember now;" the term "sachor" is often used among Jews within the context of the Holocaust.
Remembrance to counteract ignorance
The aim of the initiative is to highlight the calamity of the Shoah for younger audiences. The journalism trainees spoke to a number of Holocaust survivors, met their children and visited concentration camps in preparation for the Snapchat project.
For a whole week, they shared some of the moving stories they had learned on the popular app - using pictures and videos only and managing to balance the fine line between serious information and the quick-fix nature of Snapchat.
The motto of the project is "remembrance by observation" - something that may be more difficult today than ever before. Many people, especially younger generations, report that they are having a hard time trying to find an appropriate approach to deal with the horrors of the Holocaust. They say they can't conceptualize the suffering that Jews and other victims of the Nazi regime had to go through. It all seems too long ago.
According to a survey by the Bertelsmann Foundation in 2015, a growing number of Germans state that they would prefer to leave the darkest chapter of their history behind rather than being constantly reminded of it: 58 percent of those in the study said they wanted to see the an end to the debate on the history of persecution of the Jews.
Combating the sugarcoating of history
This new trend is widely seen as worrying.
Right-wing populists are headlining the bandwagon of those criticizing Germany's efforts to remember the Shoah, with the most recent example being comments made by Björn Höcke, the leader of the far-right "Alternative for Germany" (AfD) party in the state of Thuringia.
In a speech held in Dresden, Höcke criticized Berlin's"Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe as a "monument of shame," attracting a great deal of criticism. The AfD gave in to public pressure in the end, announcing that it was planning to suspend Höcke's party membership.
But there's more praise than criticism for the "sachor jetzt!" project. "The New York Times" journalist Andrew Lehren said that the initiative provided a "compelling way to combine new storytelling tools with important topics and reach new audiences."
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, welcomed the "sachor jetzt!" initiative
Josef Schuster, president of the Central Council of Jews in Germany, was also impressed by the young journalists' work, saying that "it is wise to use modern media in order to arouse interest in and empathy for the victims of the Shoah. I welcome the 'sachor jetzt!' project and hope that it will attract many users."
Despite reaping positive reactions for their moving reportages and unique way of communicating history, the young journalists and editors working on "sachor jetzt!" have only managed to draw a small audience so far, even though they are focusing on all social media channels (not just Snapchat) to raise awareness about their work.
All the work that went into creating the "sachor jetzt!" content remains available on the project website, www.sachor.jetzt, even after being automatically deleted from Snapchat. There is also a dedicated sachor app. In times when a growing number of people are withdrawing from Holocaust remembrance, "sachor jetzt!" sends an important signal to all generations: Remember now!