The TikTok social media platform has a way of inspiring viral trends. While many of these are harmless fun, occasionally they can veer into the dangerous or the downright offensive — like the “George Floyd Challenge.” The latest trend on the platform to cause controversy has users play-acting as Holocaust victims arriving in the afterlife. While some say the point is to educate, many users and historians are calling out the TikTok Holocaust trend as insensitive.
Play-Acting the Holocaust
The videos take different forms. One of the most prevalent formats has users pretending to be Holocaust victims describing their fate in the afterlife. Sporting makeup imitating wounds and scars, the users concoct backstories involving Gestapo raids, cattle trains, and other tropes associated with the infamous atrocity.
Other videos start out resembling typical TikTok content, complete with pop music in the background. However, after abruptly transitioning to black-and-white, the clips show users wearing the clothes of a Jewish citizen of Nazi Germany. Some users wear yellow “Star of David” badges and striped prisoner uniforms as they pretend to evade Nazi henchmen.
Some TikTok users have claimed that the Holocaust trend aims to educate younger generations about the horrific event. One user told Insider that she posted a video of herself acting as a Holocaust victim because she felt it “was important to share these stories.”
“I’ve always been interested in the history of the Holocaust and just wanted to make a creative video informing people about it on TikTok,” said the user, who asked not to be identified. “It was never intended to be offensive.”
🤮😷this is kyla.atkin pic.twitter.com/RGIoCvN4iB— Patricia🏳️🌈✡️ (@Mowgli_Lincoln) August 18, 2020
Insider reports that the user has since deleted her video, where she described being deported and murdered in a gas chamber.
Many remain unconvinced, however, that the videos amount to anything more than “trauma porn.”
“Our obsession with trauma porn [when discussing tragic histories] has only motivated a desire to dramatize these narratives,” said Briana, a 19-year-old Jewish woman who has spoken out online against the trend. “It can be very triggering for people who have family that either survived or was lost in the war.”
Twitter user @Mowgli_Lincoln also condemned the videos, commenting that “the Holocaust is not some fun little aesthetic for people to dress up for and role play.”
Historians and Holocaust experts agree that the videos are disrespectful, including US Holocaust Museum Director of Survivor Affairs Diane Saltzman.
“Imitating Holocaust experiences dishonors the memory of the victims, is offensive to survivors, and trivializes the history,” Saltzman told Insider. “The Museum encourages everyone, especially young people, to learn about the Holocaust and understand the lessons it holds for us today.”
The Auschwitz Memorial Museum, which stands on the site of the infamous concentration camp, also spoke out against the trend. In a statement posted to Twitter, the memorial said the trend can be “hurtful and offensive,” but also acknowledged the potential good intentions.
“We cannot allow villifying, shaming and attacking young people who may have done something in the wrong way as the aftermath,” the statement read.
“Educators should work with young people to present the facts and stories, but also teach and discuss how to commemorate in a meaningful and respectful way,” it continued.
The 'victims' trend on TikTok can be hurtful & offensive. Some videos are dangerously close or already beyond the border of trivialization of history.— Auschwitz Memorial (@AuschwitzMuseum) August 26, 2020
But we should discuss this not to shame & attack young people whose motivation seem very diverse. It's an educational challenge. pic.twitter.com/CB4Ve2uRUK