The ‘Schindler’s List’ Escape Room Is Real, and I Got Out
Inside a dubious effort to transform the tragedies of the Holocaust into a 60-minute puzzle game
Our escape room experience in Thessaloniki, Greece, began like any other. The attendant explained the kinds of locks we’d encounter, showed us the items we weren’t supposed to move, and briefed us on the hints we’d get from the TV screen in the corner of the room. Still, I felt uneasy. And not because we were being locked in a room with a ticking clock or because I worried we wouldn’t get out.
No, I felt uneasy because the music that accompanied his instructions was the theme song to the movie Schindler’s List. And because the escape game was called “Schindler’s List.”
When I first saw the room on the company’s website, I did a double take. Advertised as “one of the most exciting escape rooms” in Thessaloniki, the game’s description mirrored the synopsis of Steven Spielberg’s celebrated film so closely that it could’ve been written by IMDB. There was the year (1939), the location (Krakow, Poland), and the storyline (a German businessman comes to “earn money from the war” but ends up “saving as many innocents as possible from the SS”). On the company’s Facebook page were photos of smiling patrons holding what I presumed were lists of those they’d saved. “Cute,” someone had written under one of them. A post advertising the room as “the most atmospheric” had more than 700 likes.
Tone-deaf depictions of the Holocaust in games is surprisingly common. Just recently, a Ukrainian company built an online game that takes place in an extermination camp — complete with prisoners in striped clothes and Nazi look-alike guards. In 2017, two companies — one in Prague, Czech Republic, and one in Athens, Greece — offered its patrons escape rooms modeled after the gas chambers and crematoriums of Auschwitz.
To create entertainment out of tragedy is to demean, disregard, and forget the suffering of its victims.
The backlash to those instances was swift and effective. The Ukrainian company canceled the game’s development, and both the Czech and Greek companies closed the rooms. But somehow…