The diary of Eva Heyman begins innocently enough. It is her thirteenth birthday, and she writes about her dreams of becoming a journalist and marrying an Englishman.
The Hungarian Jewish teenager began her journal in February 1944, just one month before Nazi forces invaded Hungary. Its pages soon became a young girl’s account of her world transforming around her.
“Dear Diary, you are the happiest because you cannot feel the great misfortune that happened to us,” she wrote on March 19.
Her journal was published decades ago but, until now, had received scant attention, apart from a small memorial in the town of what is now Oradea, Romania.
Eva’s journal covers a period of only 108 days. She writes about many of the incremental moments that lead to the inevitable.
On March 31, 1944, she wrote: “Today an order was issued that from now on Jews have to wear a yellow starshaped patch. The order tells exactly how big the star patch must be, and that it must be sewn on every outer garment, jacket or coat. When Grandma heard this, she started acting up again and we called the doctor.
Eva has never had the name recognition of Anne Frank, whose diary is required reading in many schools around the world. But now her story has been brought back to life on Instagram.
Beginning on Wednesday afternoon — which marks the start of Holocaust Memorial Day in Israel — through Thursday, Eva’s diary is being re-enacted and posted as short Instagram video stories, intended to engage and educate a younger audience. Once complete, “Eva’s Story” will remain online in perpetuity.
The videos were created by father-daughter pair Mati and Maya Kochavi from Haifa, Israel. “We were looking for a way to deal with (Holocaust) memory and manage this memory in a way that is going to be relevant for a younger generation today,” says father Mati, a 57-year-old tech entrepreneur whose ventures include founding the media company Vocativ.
They brought in dozens of actors, with hundreds of extras, and created Nazi-era scenes in Lviv, Ukraine for the project, then recorded everything — as a teenager might — on an iPhone.
“One of the strongest ways to really convey what happened in the Holocaust is to speak to a survivor who went through it,” says 27-year-old Maya Kochavi. “We have to think of more creative and stronger ways to convey the horrors of the Holocaust to the newer generation that won’t have the chance to speak to a survivor.”
Each day from Eva’s diary has been turned into a new Instagram story added to the account. On May 10, 1944, she wrote in her journal, “I have no idea how it will be later, I always think this is the worst, then I realize on my own that everything can become even worse, actually much worse. Until now, there was food to eat, now we won’t have any.”
More than 70 years later, memories of the Holocaust are preserved in documents and museums. Israel’s Holocaust museum, Yad Vashem, has put the last letters of Holocaust victims online so that the public can read the powerful personal notes.
Not everyone has been thrilled with the social media lesson. “The path from ‘Eva’s Story’ to selfies at the gates of Auschwitz-Birkenau is short and steep,” wrote civics teacher Yuval Mendelson in a column in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz.
“At the end gather all the tongue-clickers and head-shakers, and each in turn will tell us about our lost and disconnected youth, devoid of values and shame.”
The project’s creators reject that criticism. “Social media, especially Instagram, is shallow, especially if you’re looking for content that is shallow,” says Maya Kochavi. “And if you’re looking for content that is powerful and has magnitude and can cause revolutions even, you will easily find it there.”
On May 30, she wrote her final entry: “Dear Diary, I don’t want to die, I still want to live, even if it means that only I remain behind from this entire district.”
Three days later, Heyman was deported from Hungary, then to Auschwitz, according to Yad Vashem. She died in a gas chamber on October 17, 1944.
As the number of living Holocaust survivors dwindles, the Kochavis hope that Eva will become a fresh face for those memories of the event that no one wants to remember, and the world should never forget.