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TikTok Star Montana Tucker Expands Holocaust Doc’s Reach Via YouTube

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TikTok Star Montana Tucker Expands Holocaust Doc’s Reach Via YouTube

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January 27 marks International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day designated by the United Nations to commemorate the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau on January 27, 1945 and to honor the six million Jews and five million others murdered by the Nazis.

Located in Oświęcim, Poland, about 40 miles west of Krakow, Auschwitz now operates as a museum and educational center, a tourist attraction through which more than 536,000 people visited in 2021 alone. But it is also a cemetery, a cemetery of bones and hair and the stolen shoes of the 1.1 million men, women and children, the vast majority of whom were Jews, murdered in the gas chambers. and the camp crematoria. Seventy-eight years after the infamous Nazi death camp was liberated by Allied forces, the ashes of human ashes mingle with the clouds and sky above. Of the six million Jews massacred during the Holocaust, most of them were killed in Auschwitz. It was the deadliest Nazi extermination camp.

As anyone who has visited Auschwitz can attest: you emerge from the experience as a person forever changed. This was Montana Tucker’s experiment. In June 2022, the award-winning dancer, singer, content creator and social media juggernaut made the trip – with her mother, Michelle – documenting her experience in about two minutes ICT Tac reels she came across on Instagram. The reels, titled “How To: Never Forget”, have so far been viewed more than seven million times. Youtube has since picked up the 10-episode TikTok doc, repackaging the reels into a single contiguous documentary that bowed to the platform on January 18. “How To: Never Forget” is also still available on YouTube as individualized reels.

Tucker, a “proud Jew” and grandson of Holocaust survivors, is a longtime advocate of Holocaust education. Growing up in Boca Raton, Florida, Tucker was “very, very close” to her zaïdie (Yiddish for grandfather) and grandmother on the maternal side, Lilly and Michael Schmidmayer, who both survived Auschwitz. Her Instagram feed is filled with photos of Tucker and her grandparents.

“All my life, I’ve always known my grandparents’ stories,” says Tucker, who has more than 8.5 million followers on TikTok and nearly 3 million on Instagram. The variety. “I always felt very, very attached to them. They were talking in every school in Florida. My Zaide always said that the purpose of his life was to educate, educate, educate, to make sure people would never forget. He would wear a pin that said, “I am a survivor. This has always been very important to both my grandparents.

When Tucker’s grandfather died in August 2019, she reviewed her grandparents’ USC Shoah Foundation testimonies, which had been recorded years before. Founded by Steven Spielberg in 1994, the nonprofit organization has created an extensive catalog of audiovisual interviews with survivors of the Holocaust and other genocides.

“I saw them as a kid, of course, but hearing them as an adult you obviously feel it much more deeply,” says Tucker, who has opened for artists such as Ciara, Pitbull , Flo Rida and Lil Wayne.

This was the September 2020 release of the US Millennial Holocaust Knowledge and Awareness Survey, in which 63% of Millennials and Gen Z respondents were unaware that 6 million Jews had been murdered, coupled with rising rates of anti-Semitism – according to FBI hate crime statistics, Jews remain the most targeted ethno-religious group in the United States, which prompted Tucker to act.

“I knew I had to do something,” she recalls. “I just wasn’t sure what it was.”

Enter: Israel Schachter, the founder and CEO of Toronto-based philanthropic organization CharityBids. It was Schachter, a producer of “How To: Never Forget”, who arranged for Tucker and his mother to visit Poland and shoot footage for what would become the documentary project. (Rachel Kaster, another producer on the project, is also the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.)

Photo by Rachel Kastner

“I think everyone today is so afraid to say anything or to defend anything, because they’re afraid of offending someone,” Schachter says. “And it’s like, why do you have this platform, if you’re not using it to change the world for good and have an impact and teach people? There’s one artist in particular that I’m with very close – she identifies as Jewish and has over 20 million social media followers. I said to her: ‘You see how Jews are being attacked left, right and centre. Why don’t you talk And she said, ‘You don’t understand. I have a brand. I have a platform. Because, you know, as a Jew, you are penalized. So I said to her, ‘Hitler didn’t care what your brand was. He didn’t care how many followers you had. If you were Jewish, you were Jewish. And I think people miss that point.

“What inspires me most about Montana is that it’s just started and has a huge following,” Schachter continues. “It would be very easy for her to say it’s not worth it. But she is determined to educate, to teach the world.

In Poland, Tucker visited several extermination camps, including Belzec, the first Nazi-built killing center, and Auschwitz, where Tucker’s four great-grandparents perished. Tucker’s grandmother, Lilly, miraculously escaped, stepping out of the line where she stood holding the hand of her mother, Blima, who was sent to die in the gas chamber. Marching like cattle towards the gas chamber, Blima knew his death was imminent. By ordering her daughter to flee, she saved her life.

It’s the reason Montana is alive today.

“I had seen all the movies, all the documentaries, but nothing can prepare you for when you’re here,” says Tucker.

In Auschwitz, Tucker and his mother stood arm in arm in the exact same spot where his grandmother, Lilly, had last seen Blima before she was murdered.

“It was a moment that will stay with me forever,” Tucker said. “It was also the first time I felt empowered. Because the Nazis – they were trying to erase any sign of us. And there we were, two Jewish women, standing to honor my grandmother, who is still in We were both obviously crying, and we had to stop the cameras for a second because we wanted to call my grandma at home. She’s had Alzheimer’s for over 14 years. And we FaceTimed with she.

There was so much to cover that Tucker didn’t know how she would manage to cover it all. His team recorded over 100 hours of footage, and while planning to create a long-form version one day, Tucker knew that to capture the attention of today’s impressionable youth, a generation that needs it most of Holocaust education, TikTok materials were the most effective format. .

The edited version of the footage is around 24 minutes long, a short enough length to be used as a teaching tool in schools and various other educational organizations (watch it below). Tucker also caters to school-aged audiences nationwide.

“Kids today just don’t have the attention span to watch something long,” says Tucker. “The children are always on their phones. It was hard to fit it all in, and there’s so much more that I ultimately want to share, but I feel like the parts that we picked, each episode had something really important. And you can watch one episode without seeing the others. You can scroll it on your phone. You don’t even have to watch all the episodes, you can just choose. That’s what we wanted, so that each episode would be distinct.

With many Holocaust conspiracy theories and high-profile celebrities such as Ye, who has more followers on social media than there are Jews worldwide, spouting anti-Semitic rhetoric – as well that with few Holocaust survivors still alive, timing – and reaching Gen-Z – has never been more crucial.

Said Tucker: “Their favorite athletes and their favorite rappers spew anti-Semitic comments – those kids don’t know any better. We don’t really teach them anything else.

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and National Director of the ADL (Anti-Defamation League) believes that “younger generations must take up the torch of remembrance”. He finds Tucker’s work inspiring. “To see a young social media influencer use her platform to educate about the history of the Holocaust and raise awareness of modern day anti-Semitism, Montana Tucker has done an incredible service by sharing her emotional journey through her family history with her millions. followers.”

Dan Luxenberg, CEO of SoulShop and producer of “How To: Never Forget,” also hopes the documentary will reach multiple age groups. “I think we’re going to reach a whole new audience with YouTube because it’s going to be used for individual viewing, but it’s also going to be used for co-watching experiences,” he says. “Before, everyone would stop watching TV and come to the family dinner table to chat. Now it’s more like, put down your phones and come watch TV with your family.

When Tucker embarked on the project, a process she describes as “very intense and very heavy,” she didn’t know what the public’s reception would be. Her reputation is that of an upbeat and carefree entertainer, with clips of her dancing around smiling consuming much of her social media feed. Because of her last name and blonde hair, a large majority of her followers didn’t even know Tucker was Jewish: “That’s what offends me the most,” she said. “It’s extremely biased.”

“Seeing me on the doc, you know, crying and going through something very dark and heavy — that was a risk for me,” Tucker adds. “I wasn’t sure what reaction was going to happen. I had posted pictures of my grandparents in the past, just happy pictures of my grandparents. After the reels of the documentary came out, thousands of people unfollowed me.

But that’s no deterrent for Tucker, who is currently working on a myriad of other educational projects, including one on the relationship between the black and Jewish communities. “We should all come together,” Tucker says. “I have friends who are Jewish and they will talk about anything except anti-Semitism, because they are afraid of missing out on job opportunities. And that’s just crazy to me. If you have a platform, you should use it to express yourself. You want peace, that’s the goal here. At least that’s my goal. I’m Jewish, and I always talk about it, and I always will talk about it. And I’m very, very proud.