ichbinsophiescholl: the culture of digital memory at court

Margot Friedlander celebrated her 100th birthday last year. She survived the Holocaust and lectured as a contemporary witness to maintain awareness that such crimes must never happen again. But living eyewitnesses are becoming fewer and people are looking for new ways to commemorate the time of World War II and to reach younger generations – for example through Instagram.

The Eva Stories project was created in Israel in 2019, where the diary of a Hungarian Jew was filmed. In Germany, the ichbinsophiescholl channel followed shortly thereafter. At the digital re:publica conference, makers and critics not only discussed this project, but also what the culture of remembrance in social media should fulfill.

Instagram as a means to an end

From May 2021 to February 2022, the Instagram account ichbinsophiescholl reported the last ten months of resistance fighter Sophie Scholl’s life. Actual events have been re-enacted using contemporary historical documents about Scholl with actors, but some accounts have also been included in the text. BR and SWR managed the project, and Vice produced, among others.

According to the creators, the account now has more than 900,000 followers and reaches nearly half a million daily users. More than 70 percent of people are under the age of 35, Lydia Leipert of BR said in re:publica. But there were also criticisms: last but not least, ZDF Magazin Royale on a show in February criticized, among other things, the lack of disclosure of sources.

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According to Lippert, the intent of the account was to make “historical contexts accessible to the younger generation.” You can no longer reach young people with a classic documentary, so the team decided on Instagram as a medium.

Historian Charlotte Gans, who started the nichtophiescholl account in response to the project, criticized the “radical self-perspective” it takes. This blocks stories and other things you don’t see in the channel, such as relays. “For many Germans, Sophie Scholl was a relief after ’45,” she says. On the nassophiescholl you will find information about resistance fighters, some of whom you know very little, and other classifications of the Nazi era.

How do you deal with sources?

The shape of the ichbinsophiescholl’s culture of remembrance with the script and actors is more reminiscent of a classic feature film than a somewhat personal setting for a documentary. Historian Gans fears that treating history in this way can lead to “agitations that can drown people out”. Sometimes she missed rating. Imagination is natural in the movie, and no one would expect references there. By emulating authenticity without evidence, losing loyalty to the source and thus credibility, monetary contributions have also been said.

Perhaps bringing the culture of remembrance to social media means that the original documents are no longer simply displayed, but rather processed with the tools that the platforms provide for them. Anyway, says Lippert, “We’ve decided to use Instagram, so I have to follow the rules on this platform.” Not only on Instagram, but also on Tiktok, more and more people are thinking about what remembrance culture can look like. The development of the digital memory was discussed extensively in this year’s re: publica.

Vice’s Manuel Front tells ichbinsophiescholl that the project “was not intended to provide comprehensive information, but to generate interest.” Thus, at best, followers end up watching more than professionally produced videos. And consider it an introduction to learning more – on the Internet, in the analogue world or also from contemporary witnesses who, despite their advanced age, continue to do irreplaceable educational work.

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