Teen uses social media to offer Shoah studies

Teen uses social media to offer Shoah studies

Rutgers Hillel backs her website for ‘digital natives’

Via accountsoftheholocaust.org
Via accountsoftheholocaust.org

If social media had existed when the Nazis began their reign of terror, would photos and eyewitness accounts of Kristallnacht — the 1938 pogrom that saw Nazis burning synagogues, shattering the windows of Jewish homes and businesses, and attacking Jews in the streets of German cities — have moved the millions who would have seen such images to demand the violence be stopped? Would world leaders have been repulsed by pictures and reports that would be spread through social media of Jews being forced into ghettos and interned in concentration camps?

Carly Feldstein, a 17-year-old senior at the Princeton Day School, wondered about those scenarios — then took action. The idea that social media has the power to alter views led her to formulate a plan to capture the interest of today’s young people who perhaps cannot otherwise comprehend the enormity of the Shoah.

The website she developed to detail the brutality and atrocities of the Nazis — accountsoftheholocaust.org — is designed to draw the attention of youthful viewers — Carly calls them “digital natives” — who have grown up with smartphones, Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.

“Imagine if you were friends with Anne Frank and followed her on Facebook,” Carly writes in the website’s introduction. “Picture posts from her and others like her between 1936 and 1945. Imagine if survivors’ stories unfolded like our stories do, on a Facebook group page — you’d be hooked, right?”

In September, more than three years after she began work on the website, designed by a local tech company to resemble a Facebook page, it went live. Users will see newspaper clippings, written accounts of incidents, and photos. Carly received permission from institutions like the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington to provide hyperlinks for users who want additional information. However, viewers will not be able to like or comment on posts because, Carly said, “I don’t want any negative or anti-Semitic comments.”

In a phone interview with NJJN, Carly said the Holocaust curriculum at the school she attended through eighth grade, the Princeton Charter School, “was not very effective.”

“It was mostly short slideshows and a short couple of pages,” she said. “The kids in my class didn’t seem particularly moved or interested.”

After attending a program on the Holocaust at her synagogue, The Jewish Center in Princeton, that featured the daughter of a survivor, Carly realized that “people just didn’t seem to care as much” as they used to about the Shoah.

“I knew there had to be a better way to engage people,” said Carly. “There are just so many lessons to be learned from the Holocaust, and that kind of gets lost when it’s taught in short history lessons.”

A screen shot of Carly Feldstein’s website, which uses actual quotes and photos of those who lived and died in the Holocaust.

After that program, Carly had a talk with her father, Michael. He had family members who hid from the Nazis — some were killed — in the forests of Poland. They discussed the effectiveness of “Maus,” the Pulitzer Prize-winning serialized graphic novel by cartoonist Art Spiegelman that tells the story of his own father, a survivor from Poland, and his experiences in the ghettos and concentration camps. The format — a comic book, drawn in a minimalist style — sparked in Carly the idea to use an alternate media form in her own project.

Carly began poring over history books for quotes and information, set up an actual Facebook page to attract contributions, and interviewed survivors from her synagogue. She soon realized the job was bigger than she had anticipated because, she said, “I wanted to tell the whole story about the rise of anti-Semitism.”

Her father and mother, Lori, connected her to the Johannesburg Holocaust & Genocide Centre in South Africa, where they had met the institution’s director and other staffers while participating in an American Jewish Committee mission.

Carly raised funds to contribute to the institution in Johannesburg and set up a fund at the Jewish Federation of Princeton Mercer Bucks. Last year, members of the Jewish Community Youth Foundation of the Jewish Family & Children’s Service of Greater Mercer County also made a donation to her project.

The website allows viewers to click on specific events and periods, including life before the war, the rise of Hitler, killing squads, ghettos, concentration camps, rescuers, and resistance. The aftermath of the war is also covered, including such topics as locating family members and building new lives, and comments from other minorities persecuted by
the Nazis.

Carly Feldstein said she modeled the website on a Facebook page to make it accessible to young people. Photos courtesy Carly Feldstein

The website is being used as a teaching tool in two South African schools and is being considered at the Princeton Day School and Princeton Charter School. Carly is hoping to enlist other public school districts and the New Jersey Commission on Holocaust Education to adopt her project.

Carly’s parents are supporters of Rutgers Hillel, and she has also been in touch with its executive director, Andrew Getraer, who said he found out about the website project through the Princeton Mercer Bucks federation.

He said Hillel contributed funding and is promoting the website through its own Facebook page. He plans to connect Carly with the university’s Allen and Joan Bildner Center for the Study of Jewish Life.

“When a young person like Carly has a powerful idea … and through great research and hard work transforms it into a format her generation will look at and understand, we are looking at the future of Holocaust education,” said Getraer. “We have gotten great feedback and will continue to support it, and we hope it becomes a resource for Holocaust education throughout America.”

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