Eva Stories: About Millions for Millennials
Eva Heyman turned 13 years old. She has just started an Instagram page where she posts stories — about her favorite clothes and music, her plans for life, her mother and cousin, boys, school, and other important things. She scored 1.1 million subscribers and 100 million views in the first day. That’s Because Eva Heyman lives in 1944 in the Hungarian city of Nagyvárad (today it is the Romanian city of Oradea).
It is now mid-May and in just two weeks she will be deported to Auschwitz. In March, the Nazis seized power in Hungary. At the end of the month, a decree was issued that all Jews must sew big yellow stars on their outerwear. Eva shows her star that is neatly sewn to her checkered coat. “Such a big star you can’t see anything else,” says the guy who she is in love with and who she accidentally runs into on the street. That’s all he says. A huge ghetto, the largest in the country, was already organized in Nagyvárad, and on May 1, Eva and her family found themselves there. Soon everyone will be sent to Poland, to the death camp near Auschwitz; a mass deportation has just begun, on 15 May. Eva keeps the video diary of the ghetto life — they will come after her in two weeks, on May 30th. In the ghetto, she meets her mother and stepfather, and although 7-8 people live in each room, she still does not think that life has ended.
Eva died a long time ago, but her diary, written in 1944, remained. It was published by her mother Agnes and her stepfather, famous Hungarian writer Bela Zsolt, in 1947. As in the Diary of Anne Frank, and many other teenage girls’ diaries of the 1930s and 1940s, not only her feelings, but also the historical events that took place before her eyes and with her participation, were recorded in Eva’s notes.
A diary is just an old form of a blog. “Today’s youth” does not keep or read diaries, so it’s logical to transfer Eva’s story to a new medium — for example, short Instagram videos. So thought Mati Kochavi who produced Eva Stories that were published in Instagram stories on May 2, 2019. Together with his daughter Maya, he created this project, investing several million dollars in it.
Kochavi founded several IT companies related to information security, data analysis, and content production (AGT International, 3iMIND, Vocativ, and others). An Israeli from Herzliya, he became rich on the issue of security, supplying surveillance systems to American homes; their demand increased drastically after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Kochavi has been living and working in the USA for a long time, and although he is engaged in IT-business traditional for Israel, he cooperates with the United Arab Emirates, supplying cameras and surveillance sensors there, which causes as many questions in Israel as popularizing the Holocaust history.
A few weeks before the project was published in Israel and USA, an advertisement appeared: “What If a Girl in the Holocaust Had Instagram?” They say it caused a rush of indignation being perceived as simplification of history, as entertainment content created on a basis of tragic events, as bad taste, finally. The truth is no strong criticism appeared in media, but each article about Eva Stories mentions certain retrogrades who authors argue with. They say that if young people do not read texts, it’s time to speak their language, which is “very modern and understandable.”
The Eva Stories project is not the first attempt by Israelis to use new technologies to tell about the Holocaust. The Startup Nation organizes hackathons to find a way to convey the idea that the Holocaust should not happen again to the modern youth. Jews certainly have a reason for such anxiety. Every year there are less survivors, i.e. witnesses who can tell what they saw. Surveys conveyed among young people, for example, in the USA show that even if they are aware of the genocide history, they greatly underestimate its scope and importance. In Auschwitz alone, 1.1 million people were killed – just as many as there were followers of the account on the first day.
It should come as no surprise that transfer of evidence into virtual reality is becoming a big trend. It is obvious that Instagram is just another format, not the last one. Previous scandals were associated with the comic “Mouse”, and before that — with the “Schindler’s List” film, which also “simplified” and “entertained” by talking about the tragedy. Another thing is that when a smartphone is “sent” to 1944, the historical truth is distorted. But it turns out that the truth can no longer be known, because the original Eva’s diary, written in a notebook, does not exist — at least, no one has seen it, except for Eva’s mother, Agnes Zsolt. She is suspected to be the diary’s author.
When Eva’s mom and dad divorced, mom married the famous Hungarian writer Bela Zsolt and moved to Budapest with him. Eva stayed with her grandparents in Nagyvárad. Mom rarely came to visit, but in May 1944 they met again in Nagyvárad, in the ghetto, where almost all the Jews of the country were taken to. Agnes and Bela managed to escape from the ghetto and go to Switzerland, and Eva and her grandparents were sent to Auschwitz. In the last entry, dated May 30, 1944, Eva writes that she is going to hand over her diary to a former family cook, Christian Mariska Sabo. After the liberation of Romania and Hungary, Agnes and Bela went back to Nagyvárad, found out that Eva had been killed in Auschwitz and got the diary from Mariska. Agnes published it in 1947 in Budapest, and in 1951 she commited suicide. Eva’s stepfather and Agnes’s husband Bela Zsolt wrote memoirs about the Holocaust called “Nine Suitcases” immediately after returning to Hungary. In the book, he described how they had managed to escape from deportation to Auschwitz. In three years’ time he died from a serious illness. The original diary “disappeared”, the witnesses were already gone by the beginning of the 1950s, and modern researchers of school diaries of that time claim that such text could not be written by a 13-year-old girl.
Mati Kochavi chose this very text from 30 school diaries of the 1940s as most touching, truthful, and intelligible for the modern youth.