TikTok and Holocaust Memory: Print Project Proposal

There is no doubt that TikTok has taken over social media. TikTok presents an insane amount of content and a large variety of entertainment such as trending dances, storytelling, challenges, tutorials, etc. In addition to the pop-culture side of TikTok, there is also a popular academic side where academics of all disciplines make fun and entertaining videos about their subjects. I’m not the best at TikTok but I do follow some history accounts, one of my personal favorites is Dylan Hollis @bdylanhollis who makes weird recipes from different time periods, even as early as the Civil War period! While those videos are fun interpretations of history, for my print project I would like to look at TikTok accounts associated with Holocaust memorial sites in Germany.

I have found five Holocaust Memorial sites, namely concentration camps, that have TikTok accounts associated with the museum or site. The five accounts I will be looking at are: the Mauthausen Concentration Camp memorial in Austria @mauthausenmemorial, the Bergen-Belsen memorial @belsenmemorial, the Gedenkstätte Roter Ochse a part of the Sachsen-Anhalt memorial foundation @gedenkstaetteroterochse, the Dachau memorial @dachaumemorial, and the Neuengamme memorial @neuengamme.memorial.

The Neuengamme Memorial TikTok

These TikTok accounts are all relatively new, @neuengamme.memorial has the most videos with the first dating back to November 11, 2021. The account is run by three volunteers at the memorial who from my understanding are doing a Freiwilliges Soziales Jahr, a voluntary social year. According to the first video Daniel, a volunteer from England, states that he started this TikTok account because when he was assigned to work at the memorial, he had never heard of it before. His goal for this account is to make information about this memorial more accessible and available. It seems the @neuengamme.memorial account kickstarted the trend on TikTok and other memorial sites followed suit. The @dachaumemorial and @mauthausenmemorial both reference videos from @neuengamme.memorial in their first TikToks but the other accounts all started around the same time, about 2 weeks ago. Most of the accounts only have a handful of videos but seem to have a solid posting schedule.

The TikTok videos are mostly in English, sometimes German is used alongside English or German with English subtitles added to the video. The videos mostly introduce the memorials, how long they were open, when they were liberated, etc. The @neuengamme.memorial has also started to post survivor memory videos where relatives of survivors make TikToks for the account and talk about their relatives experiences there. Another important factor of these TikToks is the interactions in the comments. In their first video, @dachaumemorial asked viewers to comment questions or ideas for future videos and the @mauthausenmemorial account made a whole video about interacting with people over TikTok. These accounts are trying to make these memorial sites more accessible for people who might be interested but unable to visit.

I don’t have a research question yet, but I am interested in the collaboration/interaction aspect of these accounts. What are people commenting/what are they interested in? How are people interacting with the videos, do they just watch them and keep scrolling? How are these videos affected by algorithms? I read an article earlier today about Holocaust deniers on TikTok and how TikTok is trying to fight their presence on the app. I wonder if these videos and accounts are a part of that? Using institutions to educate people? These sites and memorials are trusted sources of information. These accounts could be a way to counteract some Holocaust deniers on TikTok. Here is the article link if interested, https://www.bbc.com/news/technology-60156673. I am also interested in the fact that these sites are on TikTok and how Holocaust memory is being talked about on this platform.

– Emma Todd

3 Replies to “TikTok and Holocaust Memory: Print Project Proposal”

  1. Emma, this topic is so key right now. TikTok presents such fleeting moments of interaction so it’s hard to imagine people paying much attention to anything as they scroll through video after video. But if these accounts can make people stop and reflect on what’s being said, then that is a huge benefit. At the same time, TikTok is primarily an entertainment platform, so how do we address topics of such a serious nature? I wonder this same thing when I read or hear about gift shops or cafes at Auschwitz–what does the presence of these gimmicks do for Holocaust memory? It feels disrespectful in some ways, but if it is bringing more people into the story, then perhaps it’s necessary. I think it’s really important that these TikTok accounts present Holocaust history well, which it seems like they’re doing, but I hope that the people interacting with these videos and accounts are also paying attention to what they can learn from these accounts, rather than just swiping down to the next video.

  2. Hi Emma!
    I love this idea– so much to consider in this! It’s just absolutely fascinating how TikTok has gone from short dance videos and skits to this chance to educate about the Holocaust to millions of people. Your questions are perfect for considering this topic!

    I would note though that maybe it would be beneficial to research if TikTok in Europe is different than here in the U.S. I know Europe has stricter Internet laws than here, so maybe this has some background as to the nature of the videos as well.

    Again, love how you are considering the interactions of people on this sites. Holocaust denial is such a huge issue currently and TikTok is such a public platform that it can be so beneficial as an education tool. With this, I would be curious (and this is more to your opinion on this) if there is dangers to using TikTok for this? Like could these platforms become a problem? I was thinking about this is the sense of the accounts not taking proper historical accuracy measures and something slips. Or they word something in the wrong way. Or they get an influx of Holocaust deniers that just flood their account.

    Anyway, I rant. Again– great project idea!

  3. Hi Emma,

    This is a really compelling idea for a project. In particular, I think when folks think of TikTok we think of something trendy and funny and somewhat frivolous, so just the very idea that holocaust memorial sites are on the platform is a bit jarring to preconceptions about what the platform is in our minds. So right there, you have a compelling hook and I think there would be a lot of interest in just knowing what kind of content is coming out from these sites and how it works with and fits with the missions of these organizations.

    As far as research questions go, I think this is a great case for a very open ended kind of project. What kinds of videos are being shared here? How do they fit with the missions of these organizations? And potentially also, which sorts of videos seem to be the most effective in reaching broader audiences in support of the organization’s missions.

    This also seems like a case where reaching out to the organizations to ask them a short set of questions, things like, how did the idea for the account start? What do you see as some of your biggest successes? Do you have any lessons learned from running a TikTok? What kinds of reactions have you received to the content? Would all be interesting kinds of things to get that could round out more of the paper.

    In short, this is a really promising idea and I think if you were to work on it that you could likely end up with something that could be a great research poster or conference paper at NCPH or Museums and the Web.

    Best, Trevor

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