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Holocaust Survivor Uses TikTok To Tackle ‘Horrific’ Misinformation

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Holocaust Survivor Uses TikTok To Tackle 'Ridiculous' MisinformationSupplied/@thetrueadventures/TikTok

It should go without saying that the Holocaust is one of the most horrific events in human history, with nearly six million European Jews murdered during World War II. 

Unfortunately, ‘should’ is the operative word here. Despite the fact that today, January 27, is intended to honour the events with Holocaust Memorial Day; that concentration camps can still be visited, and there are museums, writings and images from the time, some people seem adamant to play down the events, to compare them to wildly different situations, or even deny they happened altogether.

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In recent months, anti-vaxxers have compared coronavirus vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and backed up their argument by wearing the Star of David. There are baseless claims that the Holocaust never happened, and bizarre allegations about Jewish people that prove antisemitism did not disappear when the Nazis were defeated.

One man who knows all too well that these claims are entirely untrue is Gidon Lev; an 87-year-old from Czechoslovakia who was taken to a concentration camp when he was just five years old. Gidon remained imprisoned in the camp for the following four years, during which time his father died in a death march.

Eight decades on, Gidon now uses his experiences of the Holocaust to help educate those whose knowledge on the subject is lacking, or even entirely obsolete. With the help of his partner Julie Gray he shares stories and information on TikTok; a hub for young social media users and one of the places where so many baseless theories are spread.

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The idea to start using TikTok for this purpose came about by accident after Julie and Gidon created a profile to help promote Gidon’s book, The True Adventures.

Recalling how the page grew, Julie told UNILAD: ‘On a lark, we made a couple of TikToks and to our surprise, people seemed to really like them. We were just playing around, really, and having fun. But then people started comparing vaccine mandates to the Holocaust and that was when Gidon and I both really became active on TikTok.’

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Unable to ignore ‘such a ridiculous, outlandish comparison’, the pair moved to being ‘very outspoken about Holocaust remembrance and education’. It was ‘not at all what [they] expected’, but the amount of misinformation out there proves the shift was extremely necessary.

As he reflected on his time spent in a concentration camp, Gidon noted he ‘didn’t have a childhood’. He doesn’t remember a great deal from the time, considering he was under 10 years old, but he recalls arriving on a ‘freezing’ December day and struggling to carry the belongings he’d been allowed to take with him.

Gidon arrived in ‘one of the first transports of women and children’ to the Theresienstadt (or Terezin) concentration camp, and was directed to a room with ’10 or 12 others’. He remembers being ‘constantly hungry’, and trying to pass the time with other children by balling up old clothes and kicking them around the room until they fell apart.

Gidon Lev (Supplied)Supplied
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Children were told that they would be able to reunite with their fathers or grandfathers, but the 87-year-old knows now that it was ‘all make-believe’. Children did indeed see their fathers, but only through the bars of their windows as the men marched off to work with German soldiers guarding them.

Gidon recalled: ‘They weren’t even allowed to look in our direction. Any one of them who looked in our direction was beaten or hit… I saw my father, but he didn’t see me.’

Immediately after the war, Gidon believes that many families were more focused on finding their family members than on the state of antisemitism at the time. Julie, however, noted that ‘a lot of non-Jews are under the impression that antisemitism was defeated when the Nazis were defeated – and thus ended a malignant hate.’

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However, the fact that Gidon and Julie now need to use TikTok to educate people proves that was not the case.

Julie explained:

Antisemitism was not eradicated – it just went underground.

The antisemitic tropes that are ubiquitous on social media today are almost identical to what they have been for some time; greed, control, etcetera, but today there are new iterations of these beliefs embodied and amplified by conspiracy groups like QAnon, which is the mother of all conspiracy groups; a kind of freestyle, kitchen-sink, post-Trump, cell-based organisation.

I have encountered a dismaying number of Holocaust deniers on TikTok. So it’s all the same – but different. Antisemitism is an incredibly adaptive virus, with many variants.

Gidon described Holocaust deniers and theories of ‘Jews running the world’ as ‘horrific’, adding: ‘Excuse the expression, it’s all bullsh*t, really.’

Woman holding coronavirus vaccine (Alamy)Alamy

Though he wishes it hadn’t happened, he stressed he would not have been sitting talking about the Holocaust if that were the case and added: ‘I would have a father, I would have had a childhood. I didn’t have a childhood. Most children have childhoods, they grow up, they play ball, you go to school, you play games, I hardly had any of that.’

Where some people outright deny the Holocaust ever happened, others simply fail to grasp the concept of just how awful the events were.

Following the creation of the coronavirus vaccine, many venues and businesses across the globe established rules that visitors must be vaccinated. Despite the fact these rules can save lives, they caused outrage among those who felt them to be an infringement on their freedom, with some going as far as to liken the mandate to being in a concentration camp.

For Gidon, the two are ‘worlds apart’ as he expressed his disbelief that anyone could consider advice to ‘get vaccinated and stay away from people and wear a mask so that you don’t get sick, and stay alive’ as anything like the events of the Holocaust.

He told UNILAD: ‘That’s one of the things that I’m definitely struggling against, trying to explain and trying to show people and tell people, there is no comparison. It’s ridiculous, it’s obnoxious if that’s a good enough word to describe it, because the idea of asking people to get vaccinated is not a punishment; it’s a protection for themselves and for others.

‘The Holocaust, the wearing of the Star of David was the exact opposite; it was to isolate, humiliate, dehumanise the Jewish people, young and old, to separate them and point out to them that they are the enemy of us all. I have the Star of David that my mother had to wear, so I am totally without any reserve against that idea to compare the two,’ he continued.

Though some of these comparisons stem from baseless hatred, others come from sheer ignorance.

Gidon called to mind one example of a TikToker who appeared to make light of the Holocaust when showing off her bald head and adding the caption: ‘first day at an unvaccinated camp’. Following the release of the video, the survivor was able to speak with the TikToker and learn that she ‘didn’t realise’ the impact of her comments.

Star worn by Gidons mother (Supplied)Supplied

He described the situation as the result of ‘total ignorance’ and added that she apologised for her actions in the video, proving just how vital it is for people to have easy access to accurate, reliable information, such as that provided by Gidon.

Discussing the importance of educating younger generations, Julie said there is a ‘responsibility to condemn those horrible events, properly honour and grieve for the millions of lives lost and ask ourselves who we are as a species on this planet and whether human life and dignity truly matter to us.’

Julie stressed that ‘not for one second’ does she think that ‘young people don’t care or are unintelligent’, but expressed the belief that the fact ‘many young people lack even basic knowledge of the events of the Holocaust is symptomatic, primarily, of the utter failure of our under-funded, ill-equipped education systems.’

She added: ‘It is also both a wake-up call and an opportunity to innovate the way we teach what matters to us, with lasting, positive effects.’

Gidon Lev (Supplied)Supplied

With the help of TikTok, then, Julie expressed hope that she and Gidon ‘might inspire someone to be more empathetic or learn more about tolerance and why history matters’, even if it’s simply in the form of a 30-second video.

For his part, Gidon said: ‘What can I say? We are in a very strange time in the history of the world and a lot of crazy things are happening. I’m just trying to do my little part and show that it can be different. It can be better.’

You can follow Gidon on TikTok here, or delve further into his experiences in his book The True Adventures

If you have been affected by any of the issues in this article and wish to speak to someone in confidence, contact Stop Hate UK by visiting their website www.stophateuk.org/talk

Topics: Featured, Coronavirus Vaccine, Features, Holocaust, Nazi, TikTok

Emily Brown
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