A bunch of Israeli entrepreneurs has come together to find creative solutions to address misinformation about the Holocaust, to promote Holocaust education and to support Holocaust survivors.
As reported by NoCamels.com, the 30-hour hackathon at the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange will see participants take part in the creation of various applications and tech products focused on benefiting survivors. They will cooperate with a number of non-profit NGOs and organizations that work with Holocaust survivors, including the Foundation for the Benefit of Holocaust Victims in Israel, as well as about 20 mentors from companies like Microsoft, EY and NICE Systems.
The Spark Hackathon was established by TLV Starters, an organization that is also behind the “Startup Guide Tel Aviv.” The event is significant for TLV Starters for a number of reasons, not least of which is the opportunity to use the products created at the event as a tool to teach young people about the Holocaust.
“In five to 10 years, no [Holocaust survivors] will be left. Someone needs to take care of the day after tomorrow,” TLV Starters co-founder Erez Gavish tells NoCamels, “What’s going to happen when history repeats itself? We are just doing our humble part with providing a platform which enables people to create a solution with applications that can help. They will not replace the survivors but will be another means to an end that people will not be forgotten. This is the power of technology.”
Gavish’s concerns are well-founded. Recent studies point to rising levels of Holocaust denial and ignorance, combined with rising anti-Semitism.
Earlier this month when Israel marked Holocaust Remembrance Day, to honor the six million Jews killed in World War II, Tel Aviv University released an annual report on the state of antisemitism worldwide – and the results were alarming. The report by the Kantor Center, headed by European Jewish Congress President Moshe Kantor, noted a 13 percent rise in anti-Semitic incidents in 2018 and cited an “increasing sense of emergency” in parts of North America and Europe where Jews once felt safe.
The Kantor Center suggested a number of reasons for the increase including a strengthened presence of classical anti-Semitism due to religiously-based conflicts, and the rise of right-wing parties and extreme right movements. The primary reason, however, was a growing ignorance among younger generations regarding the Holocaust.
The report highlighted a 2018 CNN poll showing that one out of five people between the ages of 18 and 34 in France had said they’d never heard of the Holocaust. In Austria, 12 percent of young people said the same.
According to another 2018 report, a third of American millennials (born between early 1980s and early 2000s) did not know what Auschwitz was and 22 percent had not heard of the Holocaust or were not sure if they had. In the UK, 45 percent of people polled in a separate report said they did not know how many people were killed in the Holocaust. One in five believed fewer than two million Jews were murdered.
Meanwhile, the generation that survived the Holocaust is departing fast and with them, the stories and testimonials some of them have yet to record.
In Israel, a Central Bureau of Statistics report released this year found that at the end of 2017, there were only approximately 200,000 Holocaust survivors still living in the country. Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day on January 27, 2018, CBS estimated there would only about 26,200 Holocaust survivors living in the country by 2035.
Concerned by these developments, Gavish and four other Israeli entrepreneurs – Natan Leibzon, Anat Greemland, Talia Savchenko and Alon Rapaport – set up the first Spark Hackathon last year in an effort to harness the power of technology to promote Holocaust education as well as to help solve some of the difficulties facing Holocaust survivors.
The hackathon gathered 120 participants, resulting in 23 projects created during the event. The winning initiative, called Momento, won for its use of virtual reality and augmented reality to create a visual experience of Jewish sites before and during the Holocaust, offering an authentic reconstruction of buildings, streets, ghettos, concentration camps, and extermination. Second place went to “Hilf” (meaning help in Yiddish), a mobile app that creates an online community to help Holocaust survivors, the elderly and the disabled. The team that developed this app is currently conducting a pilot with emergency medical service United Hatzalah, Gavish said.