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Case Studies

  1. The #holocaustchallenge on TikTok 

In 2020 teenagers pretended to be Holocaust victims, sharing clips of themselves with, for  example, fake bruises, wearing clothes that Jews were ordered to wear by the Nazis. The  teens pretended to be Holocaust victims in heaven and explained in the videos how they  “died”, how they were killed in gas chambers. The videos were very popular, some with more  than a hundred thousand likes. 

Though it not be immediately clear what motivates such behavior and representations, this  form of trivialization of history and it is deeply disrespectful. “For some young people, this  could be a form of transgressive ‘humor’ that mocks the Holocaust to gain reposts or likes  from other users. For others, however, it could be a way of processing their own responses  to learning about such emotionally challenging events. For some, it might be a creative,  aesthetic way to inform others of their own generation by using a new medium where the  ethics of representation have still not been fully developed”*.  

When the trend became apparent, TikTok blocked users’ ability to search for  #holocaustchallenge and redirected any searches for this hashtag first to the Community  Guidelines and later to a short guide on assessing challenges. Moreover, TikTok community  members seeking Holocaust-related information are now be directed to the website, a comprehensive resource developed by the World Jewish Congress and  UNESCO to provide basic information about the Holocaust. 

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  1. Use of the yellow star for protests related to the COVID-19 pandemic 

When several countries introduced restrictive measures to control the spread of COVID-19  during the pandemic as a way to incentivize vaccination and prevent future viral surges,  protestors accused governments of creating new ‘classes’ of citizens, namely: the  “vaccinated” and “unvaccinated”, and compared the measures with the segregationist and  genocidal policies of the Nazi regime and their collaborators. Protestors in several countries  created altered versions of the yellow star – which Jewish people throughout Europe were  forced to wear by the Nazis and their collaborators – on which they added ‘No vaccine’ or  ‘Unvaccinated’. Moreover, some protestors created signs that equated quarantine to  concentration camps and compared themselves with well-known victims of the Holocaust,  like Anne Frank. 

“People compare contemporary events to the Holocaust to draw attention to their own  cause, which has nothing do to with the history of the Holocaust,” says Dr. Juliane Wetzel13.  

Such comparisons trivialize this history and insults the victims, as “vaccination requirements  bear no resemblance to the experience and reality of persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany or  during the Holocaust and reveal a deep lack of empathy towards victims of the Holocaust, or  the incapacity to conceive of Jews as victims”.** Moreover, such manifestations make way  for the expression of antisemitic stereotypes in the mainstream. They are more than  inappropriate: they are harmful. 

Yad Vashem issued a statement urging people not to draw such misguided and offensive  parallels as they trivialize the horrific atrocities that were perpetrated and denigrate the  memory of victims and survivors. 

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  1. Mocking the Holocaust 

‘Humour’ and mocking of the Holocaust are used to spread holocaust distortion on social  media. The reasons that motivate people to propagate this form of Holocaust distortion can  range from an attempt to gain acceptability and legitimacy among the wider public; to  propagate racist, white supremacist ideology; to recruit and radicalize new members; and  the use of shared, covert language and signals strengthen a sense of group identity****. 

But such manifestations are not restricted to the online world. For example, in 2015, an art  exhibition at Estonia’s Tartu Art Museum was dedicated to “remembering” the Holocaust in  various ways, including “through the prism of humor”. The show was advertised with a poster  resembling a photo taken after the liberation of Auschwitz, except that “Jewish prisoners”  looked well-fed and dressed, and grinned menacingly at the camera. One film in the exhibition  portrayed naked actors playing tag in what is supposed to represent a gas chamber. A painting  depicted the icon sign on Hollywood hills replaced by the word Holocaust. A shameful parody  of the fate of millions of Jews who were murdered in death camps, the exhibition played on  conspiracy theories. 

The show has sparked outrage in Estonia and beyond and the exhibition was eventually  removed.  

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  1. “The Holocaust on your plate” 

In 2003, PETA – People for Ethical Treatment of Animals organized an exhibition called “The  Holocaust on your plate” juxtaposing images of the Holocaust with images of factory farming  such as images of children behind barbed wire with images of pigs behind bars; emaciated  people with emaciated animals; people crammed into bunks, with chickens in a battery farm.  

The intended aim of the exhibition was to raise awareness the inhumane treatment of animals  in factory farming.  

Abraham Foxman, the national director of the Anti-Defamation League and a Holocaust  survivor, said that while the abuse of animals should be opposed, “the effort by PETA to  compare the deliberate systematic murder of millions of Jews to the issue of animal rights is  abhorrent”. Germany’s highest court banned the exhibition stating that it would have made  “the fate of the victims of the Holocaust appear banal and trivial.” 

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  1. Glorifying the Roma Genocide 

In various countries, people praise the Nazis and their collaborators for their actions against  the Roma, instigating and alluding to such actions in the present. Comments like “too bad  [Hitler] did not clean them up”, “the Roma deserve to have been sent to concentration camps  because they are thieves and lazy and because they do not pay their electricity and live on  the back of the state” have been identified in different countries, in a study published in  2022.*****

Glorification of the Roma Genocide is sometimes disguised as humor. For example, comedian  Jimmy Carr said on his Netflix show that “[w]hen people talk about the Holocaust, they talk  about the tragedy of 6 million Jewish lives being lost to the Nazi war machine. But they never  mention the thousands of Gypsies that were killed by the Nazis. (…) No one ever wants to talk  about that, because no one ever wants to talk about the positives”. When asked if he  regretted his joke, the comedian remained silent.  



*History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media (2022), UN and UNESCO, p.39

**Protect the Facts Global Campaign: holocaust-comparisons-the-covid-19-yellow-star

***History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media (2022), UN and UNESCO, p.45

****History under attack: Holocaust denial and distortion on social media, published by the UN and UNESCO in  2022, p. 38

*****The Roma Holocaust/Roma Genocide in Southeastern Europe – Between Oblivion, Acknowledgment and  Distortion, published by The Auschwitz Institute for the Prevention of Genocide and Mass Atrocities and the  Roma Program at the François-Xavier Bagnoud Center for Health and Human Rights, Harvard University: