5 tips on hosting Holocaust commemorations online


Covid-19 is requiring many changes in the way we live and work. Amongst the danger and terrible effects of the global pandemic, many particularly significant commemorations are to take place in 2020 in recognition of the 75th year since the end of the Second World War.

Many organizations working in Holocaust remembrance, education and research are now grappling with the question of how to mark these occasions digitally. We spoke to some experts about the new challenges that this entails, and how to do it well. Here are some main takeaways to consider.

1. Your structure may have to change

It’s important to accept that this kind of event will always be different, and that it might not be possible to stream an exact copy of the planned in-person event online. At the same time, be aware that an online event comprised only of speeches may not keep people’s attention, says Christian Wee, director of the Falstad Center in Norway, who recommends creating variety by keeping artistic performances in the program if possible. 

Niels Weitkamp, project leader for the Dutch National Committee for 4 and 5 May, agrees, particularly with regards to time: “Be aware that the amount of time people are willing to devote to commemoration might be more limited online.” 

2. Representing the physical space

Many commemorative events traditionally take place in a physical space with deep historical significance, which isn't easily replicated digitally. However, there are other ways of keeping your audience engaged. One way of creating emotional resonance is to ask your audience to actively participate, so that they aren’t just passively watching a screen. "Focus on rituals that are accessible from home, that already have symbolic importance,” says Mr. Weitkamp. Having a simple act to do, such as lighting a candle, can help to make everyone feel more connected. 

3. Security is still an important consideration

Unfortunately, Holocaust events still face a high degree of risk when being hosted online. Many commemoration events have been disrupted by "Zoom-bombing," where antisemitic slogans and images are shared by non-invited participants. For some hosts, some of the risks can be avoided by disabling screen-sharing options, and carefully weighing the pros and cons of different providers. 

There is also the added importance of respect when it comes to commemorative Holocaust events. “This needs to be professional and with dignity. We are not experts in live streaming, but a Holocaust / liberation commemoration simply cannot face technical hiccups,” says Christian Wee, director of the Falstad Center in Norway, who are looking at new ways of hosting their commemoration event on 8 May. 

4. Consider workable alternatives

You may decide that, with the resources you have available, a livestreaming event is not a practical solution. If it doesn't make sense for you to pursue a digital event or if you do not have the resources, think of other ways to commemorate.

"Can you make digital exhibitions accessible, or share content from archives?” suggests Mr. Weitkamp. 

5. Take advantage of the potential

Although there are challenges involved in hosting a commemorative event online, there is also opportunity for positive change. For one, it is easier for survivors, for whom travel would usually be difficult, to take part in a digital event by watching and contributing statements. In addition, some organizers hope to reach a broader audience, both in terms of age and geography.

“We are taking the chance of adding artists and historical presentations to the event, which we know are of interest to other parts of the population apart from the typical commemoration visitor,” says Mr. Wee. 


Image: The King of the Netherlands speaks at a commemoration ceremony. Courtesy of Herinneringscentrum Kamp Westerbork.