After years of being told she “does not look Jewish” or have a Jewish-sounding name, social media sensation Montana Tucker is proudly owning her heritage with an educational docu-series on TikTok.
Earlier this year, Tucker took a film crew to Poland to capture the story of her mother’s parents during the Holocaust, which has been edited into a 10-part series.
“This has been my responsibility to do this, for me and my grandparents and everyone else,” said Tucker, whose series has been viewed by millions of people.
“My grandparents fought for their lives to be Jewish,” Tucker told The Times of Israel in an interview.
With almost nine million followers on TikTok, Tucker is known for filming well-choreographed dance segments with performers from around the world. Depending on the scene, Tucker may be co-starring with – for example – a boy in Santa Monica, a famous rap artist, or her own mother.
“People are used to seeing my very light-hearted, fun dance videos and me collaborating with a lot of different people,” said the 29-year-old. “It’s rare for me and my content, and rare for the platform in general, to have a docu-series on the Holocaust.”
Edited into two-minute segments, How to: Never Forget immerses adolescents in the history of Nazi Germany’s genocide of six million Jews during World War II. To give viewers hope and encourage them to be “upstanders”, the series also shines a light on Polish families who risked their lives to rescue Jews.
@montanatucker I am beyond sad and sick to my stomach with all of the ANTI-SEMETISM going on in our world. HOW is HATE towards ANY religion, race, ethnicity, sexual preference, etc allowed/tolerated?!? My grandparents are Holocaust SURVIVORS- 77 years later and this is STILL happening ?! •Follow along as I travel across the world to WITNESS the ATROCITIES of the Holocaust and dive even deeper into my family’s Holocaust survival story. Sharing their story with you is the most meaningful thing I could ever do with my platform. Episode 2 coming November 1. Join me in making sure we #neverforget #neveragain #holocaust #education #nohate #jewish #antisemitism #endantisemitism ♬ original sound – Montana Tucker
“This docu-series is very different,” said Tucker. “It’s not like reading a history book. We had no script. It’s authentic and real, and what I’m feeling and seeing is what the viewer is feeling and seeing as well,” she said.
In more than two decades of working in show business, Tucker has regularly encountered examples of antisemitism.
Most commonly, people ask Tucker if she is “actually Jewish”, based on her appearance and her name, and in recent years, Tucker has lost thousands of TikTok followers for posting about her family’s Holocaust story.
“You’re trying to make us feel bad for Jews,” was typical of negative comments posted in response to her Holocaust-related videos, said Tucker.
Earlier this month, Tucker was attacked online after standing up to NBA star Kyrie Irving for his antisemitic posts.
After Irving used Twitter to recommend a documentary filled with anti-Jewish vitriol, Tucker demanded the basketball player apologise and learn about the Holocaust through her family’s story.
“The comments [people posted] were very scary,” said Tucker. “They don’t know any better, a lot of the people who look up to someone like Kyrie Irving. That is why it is so dangerous.”
The release of How To: Never Forget coincided with the 10 days leading up to Kristallnacht.
Eight years ago, Tucker visited Israel for the first time on a Birthright Israel trip. Although she was already proud of her Jewish identity, participating in Birthright brought Tucker’s connection to a new level, she said.
“It was like a family there. You instantly have this crazy connection,” said Tucker. “I absolutely need to get back.”
Much of her Jewish identity comes from her Holocaust-survivor grandparents.
“My grandparents were my everything,” said Tucker. “It was so important for them to be proud of being Jewish. My Zaidi wore a pin that said, ‘Never again, never forget.’”
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According to her tour guide in Poland Zack Jeffay, while filming, Tucker was fully immersed in learning all she could about the life of her relatives before the war and during the genocide.
“Montana is deeply connected to her grandparents, both as Holocaust survivors but also as role models in her life who she cares for deeply,” Jeffay told The Times of Israel. “At that level it was an amazing experience to accompany someone through the stories that have clearly been so formative in her life.
“A particular moving moment was to be able to find seven members of her extended family who were murdered in [the former death camp] Belzec, who the family had no idea had existed,” he added.
On social media, Tucker is known for her anti-bullying stance and partnering with, for example, performers with disabilities. An accomplished recording artist, Tucker’s most popular song is called Be Myself, an anthem for anyone who has ever been bullied.
In recent interviews, Tucker spoke of her week in Poland as the most rewarding, but most challenging experience of her life.
The trip’s emotional epicentre came at Auschwitz-Birkenau, where Tucker’s grandmother saw her parents for the last time. They were among the one million Jews murdered in gas chambers at Birkenau, including hundreds of thousands of children.
“With my mother, I stood where her mother saw her parents for the last time,” said Tucker, who spoke about the incongruity of visiting Holocaust sites in Poland.
“It was shocking to me that it is such a beautiful country,” said Tucker. “Many of these [killing sites] were surrounded with homes and apartment buildings, people living their normal lives.”
In one encounter that does not appear in the docu-series, Tucker met a Polish man who has been the caretaker of an abandoned synagogue for decades.
“He learned Hebrew on his own to take care of it,” said Tucker. “He’s done it for 20 years and said he feels no one else will do it if he does not.”
By all accounts, the arrival of Tucker’s docu-series could not be more timely. With antisemitic attacks and incidents in the news daily, the series is exposing adolescents to the outcome of hatred left unchecked.
“For young Jews and young people everywhere Montana is promoting through the series a real sense of pride in who you are and where you come from,” said Jeffay.
“This is our responsibility,” said Tucker. “The series is opening people’s eyes and showing you can do good on social media, too.”
Times of Israel
Follow Montana Tucker on TikTok and Instagram using the handle @montanatucker