An escape room in Thessaloniki, Greece offers visitors a “Schindler’s List”-like experience, as they race to find a list of “innocents” to save from Nazis.
A report on the room was published this week in Medium, with writer Margarita Gokun Silver questioning the ethical and educational implications of turning the story of real-life tragedy and suffering into a form of mass entertainment.
Escape rooms have become popular all over the world in recent years, with small groups of players given a standard 60 minutes to solve puzzles in a themed space and find their way out.
The room in question is one of at least eight offered by Thessaloniki’s Great Escape company. It was previously titled “Schindler’s List,” though the reporter’s investigation has since led it to be renamed “Secret Agent.”
A YouTube trailer for the room’s original name remained available, however.
The room’s content does not appear to have changed. On the Great Escape’s website, visitors are teased with the story of a businessman who hires “innocents” to work in his factory and “save the lives of hundreds of innocent people” during World War II.
Participants in the game are given one hour to examine a study in the style of the period and acquire a list of the “innocents” — no explicit mention is made of Jews or the Holocaust.
After solving the room, players are regularly photographed smiling while holding the list.
The room’s location in Thessaloniki is of particular note. After conquering Greece in 1941, Nazi Germany deported to extermination camps some 50,000 Jews from the city, which at the time was one of the main centers of Judaism in the Balkans.
It is not the first case where an escape room touching upon Holocaust experiences has been accused of insensitivity and of trivializing the suffering of victims.
In 2017 a company in the Czech Republic offered people in Prague an Auschwitz-themed game where participants must escape a room resembling a gas chamber.
In 2016 the Anne Frank foundation criticized the opening of a room in a Dutch town that simulated the Amsterdam apartment where the teen Jewish diarist hid with her family during the war.
Victoria Barnett, director of Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, told Medium: “To take an experience like the Holocaust that was dehumanizing for the victims and to turn that into a game trivializes not just the event, but it trivializes their suffering.”
Holocaust survivor Heinz Kounio, who was deported from Thessaloniki to Auschwitz, was also aghast.
“You cannot play with such tragic happening – play a game with it,” he said.
According to the Medium report, the owners of Great Escape refused requests for an interview. The report also said a similar room in Athens was renamed in 2017 following backlash.
The president of Thessaloniki’s Jewish community said he had been unaware of the room’s existence, and would look into the matter.
“We cannot forget. We shall not forget. We shouldn’t forget,” David Saltiel said.
Agencies contributed to this report.