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March 4, 2019 3:12 pm

Escape Room in Greece Inspired by ‘Schindler’s List’ Sparks Outrage

avatar by Shiryn Ghermezian

Actor Ben Kingsley in a scene from Holocaust drama, ‘Schindler’s List.’ Photo: Screenshot.

A Holocaust-themed escape room in Thessaloniki, Greece has been condemned by Israel supporters in the country and the US, Germany’s Deutsche Welle (DW) reported on Sunday.

The escape room was originally called “Schindler’s List,” based on Steven Spielberg’s 1993 historical Holocaust movie of the same name, but has since been renamed “Secret Agent,” and the objective of the game is to draw up a list of survivors who will be spared a gruesome death by killer forces.

In an escape room, small groups of players have one hour to find clues and solve puzzles that will help them discover a way out of the themed space.

Great Escape, the company behind the game, no longer advertises the game on its website, but DW reported that initial descriptions of the escape room featured on other Greek websites challenged players to assist a German businessman, Oskar Schindler, who comes to “earn money from the war” but ends up “saving as many innocents as possible from the SS” in Krakow, Poland.

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Officials at the Central Board of Jewish Communities in Greece (KIS) told DW they were considering taking action against the game. KIS Vice President Victor Eliezer said, “It’s not about antisemitism. The so-called success of these games hinges on ignorance sweeping [through] Greek society. Ask around, and chances are that most Greeks will tell you Schindler was some sort of rock star or soccer player.”

Company officials in Thessaloniki phoned by DW angrily refused to comment on the controversy surrounding the escape room and company officials in Athens told the publication that the game was not tied to the Holocaust.

However, a participant’s review of the escape room in January revealed the contrary. While an attendant described the game’s instructions to the player and others she was with, the music that accompanied the instructions was the theme song to “Schindler’s List.” The reviewer added the following:

“The Holocaust was undeniably present. It was in the Auschwitz references in the introduction; in the old pair of wire-frame glasses, lenses missing, used as a prop; and in the chilling acoustics of people screaming, dogs barking, and Germans shouting. A suitcase, the likes of which deportees carried, sat under a couch; spent bullet shells were lined up on a table; and a metal-mesh fence ran the length of the room. Hints were announced by a gunshot, sometimes two. Every time one rang out, I flinched.”

Victoria Barnett, director of the Programs on Ethics, Religion, and the Holocaust at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, previously said about the escape room, “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.”

She added, “Ethical behavior is grounded in respect and empathy for other people.”

Thessaloniki, Greece’s second-largest city, once had one of the largest Jewish communities in the world. During World War II, more than 44,000 Jews were deported to concentration camps in central Europe and a mere handful of survivors returned to the city, according to DW.

This is not the first time an escape room has had links to the Holocaust.

A Dutch company in 2016 created an escape room that was made to resemble an Anne Frank bunker and a year later an “Auschwitz” escape room, which lead players into a concentration camp setting, was opened in Galatsi, outside of Athens.

“This is all truly unfortunate,” said Eliezer. “But it’s a warning: Marketing the Holocaust and the memory of those who perished opens one of the darkest chapters in human history. We are obligated to stop that from happening again.”

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