German journalists are using Snapchat to teach teens about the Holocaust

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Lukas Dombrowski chats to Ella Blumenthal about her experiences during the Holocaust

Tim Osing, Sebastian Gubernator and Lukas Dombrowski were in Cape Town in November as part of the Sachor Jetzt project, a collaboration of young German journalists who are bringing Holoacust remembrance and education into the 21st century, to ensure that #neverforget remains accessible in a time of ever-changing technology. 

These journalists use Snapchat to teach the younger generation about what happened during the Holocaust by bringing survivors’ stories to a platform native to young Germans. To reach broader audiences, they also republish some Snapchat stories on YouTube and promote the project on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

Lindy Diamond was lucky to catch them between interviews to ask them a bit about their work.

What does ‘Sachor Jetzt’ mean? And what does the project mean to you?

Tim Osing: ‘Sachor Jetzt’ is a combination of a Hebrew and a German word. It means ‘remember now’, and that’s the exact idea of our project: we meet Holocaust survivors all around the world and tell their stories on Snapchat. As we noticed that antisemitism is on the rise again in many countries, among others in Germany, we realised how important it is to spread the experiences of those survivors. We all know they soon won’t be able to tell their stories anymore.

Why Snapchat?

Sebastian Gubernator: We’re aware that Snapchat is primarily used for fun and light-hearted conversations — nothing that you would usually link to the Holocaust. However, we find that it’s actually the perfect platform for us because we want to reach out to teenagers. If you’re 14 or 16 years old, you don’t read newspapers, you probably don’t even watch TV documentaries, but it’s very likely that you use your mobile phone a lot and can be reached via social media. Also, Snapchat offers quite an authentic and direct way of communicating. We basically interview Holocaust survivors the same way a 15-year-old would talk to his best friend.

How has this project changed the way you look at the Holocaust and Holocaust remembrance?

Lukas Dombrowski: It had quite an impact on the way we look at the Holocaust. The project was originally inspired by Margot Friedländer, a Jewish woman who grew up in Berlin and survived Theresienstadt. We invited her to our journalism school three years ago. For most of us it was the first time that we ever met a Holocaust survivor. Talking to her was saddening and heartwarming at the same time. Of course, we all knew about the atrocities of the Third Reich before, but meeting a survivor in person made us aware of the responsibility that we have: to share her story and make sure that something like the Holocaust never happens again. Since then, we interviewed many survivors, and every single meeting was extremely impressive and motivated us to continue our project.

Are there any Jewish journalists in the team? 

Sebastian Gubernator: None of us is Jewish. However, having grown up in Germany, a country in which Holocaust remembrance plays a key role in education and culture, we’ve always been aware of how important it is never to forget the past. Also, we received a lot of feedback from Jewish communities around the world, and since we’re keen to make our project even better, we’re very thankful for their input.

How have you been received by Jewish communities on your travels around the world to document Survivor stories?

Tim Osing: We’re glad to have met representatives of many important Jewish organisations. For instance, we’ve been invited by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the World Jewish Congress in New York and the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles to discuss our work, and we got positive feedback from all of them. They supported us in many ways, for instance by endorsing our project and getting us in touch with more survivors. Many of these organisations try to find a way of reaching the young generation, and we just found one.

Tell me about the “Best Web Project of the Year” statement on the home page of your website.

Lukas Dombrowski: In 2017, ‘Sachor Jetzt’ was awarded the so-called Nannen-Preis which is one of the most important awards for German-speaking journalists. The jury called our project “brave” and “innovative”. They highlighted that we use Snapchat to get teenagers in touch with Holocaust survivors whom they would normally not have the chance to meet. To us, receiving that important award was an honour but also an incentive: to continue meeting survivors and spread their stories.

Is there anything you wish the Cape Town Jewish Community knew that you could share with us?

Sebastian Gubernator: We met the most fascinating people here in Cape Town. For one of our stories, we interviewed Ella Blumenthal who told us how she survived the Holocaust, how the memories haunted her after the war and how she finally was able to talk about it. I think it’s a blessing for the Cape Town Jewish Community that there are witnesses to the Holocaust in the area who openly share their experiences. These people are incredibly strong, and their stories should be heard as often as possible.

What is the next step in your project?

Lukas Dombrowski: We constantly discuss how to make ‘Sachor Jetzt’ better and how to get even more people interested in what we do. So far, our main audience is German, but we try to reach international viewers as well. When we were in the United States earlier this year we covered our very first story entirely in English. We experiment a lot. And we’re glad that our publishing company gives us the opportunity to do so. When we started three years ago, we were journalism students at the Axel Springer Akademie in Berlin. Meanwhile, we’re full-time reporters working for newspapers. The project, however, is still funded by the journalism school, and we are grateful that Marc Thomas Spahl and Rudolf Porsch, the school’s directors, support us. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to meet so many survivors and tell their stories.

To read the editor’s column for December/January click here

To read or download the December/January issue of the Chronicle in PDF click here

To read the most read article of the November issue, click here

Portal to the Jewish Community: to see a list of all the Jewish organisations in Cape town with links to their websites, click here

Featured organisation of the month: The Jewish Community Services’ (JCS) activities are centered on relief for the poor and distressed in the Jewish community. They provide a full range of preventative, educative and supportive counselling, statutory services as well as material relief. Visit http://www.jcs.org.za for more.

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