August 27, 2021

Ellen Joyce

‘Eva Stories’ wins Webbys

Eva Stories, an Instagram-based series of videos and photos chronicling the last days of a teen Holocaust victim, has won two Webby Awards in 2020. These “Oscars” of the Internet were awarded in the categories of the Best Use of Stories and the Best Campaigns on Social Media. No wonder, as the combination of a powerful story and a new medium in which it was told has already earned Eva Stories worldwide attention much ahead of the award ceremony.  Now that that the dust has settled a bit, maybe the Webby Awards will make the skeptics reconsider why this project was a pioneering one in its treatment of the grim topic of the Holocaust.

The series came about as a family project spearheaded by Mati Kochavi, a tech entrepreneur, and his daughter Maya. Both of them have been running successful technology and social media businesses in Israel and the USA. Apart from common familial and technical background, these two shared a common vision in which a new medium of Instagram would become a platform for telling what they felt is a vitally important story for a younger audience.

So, the story that earned the Eva Stories project its Webbys award, deals with the life and death of Eva Heyman, a 13-year old Jewish girl who perished in Auschwitz concentration camp back in 1944. What was novel in their approach to the story was the fact that they picked out Instagram as their storytelling platform. For that purpose, they gathered a full-blown film production team that shot more than 200 video snippets and photos with actors who played the roles of Eva, her family, friends and the Nazis. Eva’s fictional Instagram posts thus served as a chronicle of her life, and her encounters with the horrors of the war and the Holocaust.

While this approach drew criticism even before the project was launched on Instagram in 2019, the Kochavis actually did their homework when it came to the authenticity of Eva’s account of events. The basis for the snippets that Eva keeps publishing until her very end at the hands of notorious Dr. Mengele was her diary – a personal journal discovered by her mother Agnes Zsolt, a Holocaust survivor. Eva’s diary was eventually selected for filming after the Kochavis went through no less than 30 similar journals kept by other adolescents who witnessed the Holocaust firsthand.

Even after the project drew in more than a million followers and came into the international media spotlight, it came under fire not for its story but rather for the social media format in which it was told. The critics claimed that the use of Instagram somehow trivialized a heartbreaking story they felt would work better in other media. The controversy spilled over the borders of Israel and set the global social media aflame.

Encouraged by a host of followers and the most recent awards, the Kochavis have remained stoic in the face of critical voices that now seem to be dying out. To them, Instagram was a perfect platform to engage with what is essentially an adaptation of a young girl’s diary. The reason for it is the fact that Instagram itself amounts to no more than a multimedia diary in which one’s experiences are openly shared with the community.

What sets the Eva Stories project apart from thousands of other accounts of other people’s lives is its underlying educational and historical mission – to create a new genre on an equally new tech platform with the intention to tell old but no less important stories to new generations. And, if the awards and the international following are the signs of the things to come, we have just witnessed the birth of a new storytelling medium that wants to take us to the new frontiers of experiencing the works of art.