Creators on TikTok are pretending to be Holocaust victims in heaven, donning make up that simulates burns, scrapes and starvation.
The short videos, bizarrely often using Bruno Mars’s Locked Out of Heaven as background music, always mention Auschwitz concentration camp and regurgitate popular representations of the persecution of Jewish people in Nazi Germany. The videos have thousands of views and some have more than a hundred thousand likes.
The trend is a part of a larger TikTok genre of point-of-view videos on the app, where creators simulate a situation for the viewer to get views and go viral.
Though the tone of most of these videos is not humorous, the depiction of dead Holocaust victims shocked some Jewish TikTok users this week. The trend was documented in a Twitter thread this week by Ashkenazi Jew Briana, 19, based in Los Angeles, who lost family in the Holocaust.
“Most creators are doing [these videos] to hop onto a trend so they can get likes and exposure [but they are] ill informed and woefully ignorant,” she says. “These kinds of trends are so normalised these days, there’s also a level of shock value content which I think is outdated and in bad taste. This shock value further desensitises viewers to this type of behaviour and normalises this type of harmful content.”
The videos might be a misguided attempt at educational content about the Holocaust. Another creator, McKayla, 15, from Florida, says she made her video to “spread awareness” of the Holocaust, and to share her ancestor’s story with the genocide.
“I’m very motivated and captivated by the Holocaust and the history of World War II,” she says. “I have ancestors who were in concentration camps, and have actually met a few survivors from Auschwitz camp. I wanted to spread awareness and share out to everyone the reality behind the camps by sharing my Jewish grandmother’s story.”
This isn’t the first time that ‘raising awareness’ or claiming to be producing educational content has been used to justify potentially disturbing or violent content that may be upsetting to some users. A similar trend on the topic of domestic abuse, where creators pretended to be battered women or abusive boyfriends, was reported on in April of this year, with identical reasoning behind their creation.
But TikTok’s short clips will always fail to give space to the complexity of such issues, or honour the victims adequately. Briana, who watches a lot of Jewish content on the app and suspects this is why she came across the disturbing trend, says this kind of post borders on “trauma porn” and how society is generally desensitised to tragic histories.
“People need to be properly taught about the Holocaust, not make it into a disgusting trend,” she says. “Our obsession with trauma porn [when discussing tragic histories] has only motivated a desire to dramatise these narratives.[…] It can be very triggering for people who have family that either survived or was lost in the war.”
For some of the creators who posted these videos, the problem is not the depiction of the issue, but who is creating and posting it. Taylor Hillman, 21, a deaf Jewish creator who posted her own version of the trend, says many TikTokers create this content thoughtlessly to try and go viral.
“I personally feel like in the context of the Holocaust, videos about it should be carefully thought out,” she says. “There are many young creators who range from about 12 to 16 that use the Holocaust trope for fame. They know it will get views and make them more popular, but most of the time they are not Jewish and it feels as though they are mocking the actual victims of the Holocaust.”
Hillman says that videos about this sensitive topic should be left to people in the community affected by it. “I feel that’s important that if someone is going make a POV about Jewish related topics or the Holocaust, it should be done by a Jewish person,” she says. “I personally had family members that were put into concentration camps so the topic was close to my heart. I tried to make my TikTok in a way that would not offend others in the Jewish community by not romanticising it.”
Despite the criticism the videos attracted on social media, both McKayla and Hillman say they received mostly positive feedback. “It was a mixture of commenters who said that it made them emotional or saying that I did a good job,” Hillman says. “I did receive a few comments suspicious about whether I was Jewish or trying to debate the history of the Holocaust. Overall, I have not seen any true hate comments towards that video, but more so concerned about my intentions and knowledge about the Holocaust.”
The issue of offensive content might have something to do with the speed at which TikTok trends catch on, despite efforts to monitor the content. “TikTok needs to instil better report evaluation teams and change what is allowed to be uploaded in terms of misinformation and hateful or ignorant content,” Briana says – arguing that the platform’s younger audience means it should be more militant and proactive about misinformation and “awful content” rather than simply reacting to pressure and negative media coverage.