Officials at the Holocaust Museum and Poland's Auschwitz Memorial are calling on Pokémon Go maker Niantic to take their sites off the locations where players can hunt cartoon creatures in the popular augmented reality app, saying it dishonors Holocaust victims.
Many players reported seeing the digital Pokémon creatures within the Holocaust Memorial Museum inWashington, D.C. The site is also being used as a “PokeStop” for players to get in-game items.
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Players in the mobile phone game Pokémon Go must capture digital Pokémon characters, which appear hovering over the player's real-world surroundings. Since launching last Thursday, the game has taken smartphone users by storm. It has passed Instagram, Snapchat and WhatsApp in daily usage time.
Andrew Hollinger, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum's communication’s director, said Pokémon Go is not appropriate for a memorial dedicated to the victims of Nazism. Hollinger is attempting to have the museum removed from the game.
“Technology can be an important learning tool, but this game falls far outside our educational and memorial mission,” Hollinger said in a statement to USA TODAY.
Memorial and Museum Auschwitz – the site of mass executions of Jews and others during World War II – also told Niantic Labs to stop allowing Pokémon Go to use its site in the game, according to a tweet from its official Twitter account.
The creators of Pokémon Go, Niantic Labs, had previously used Nazi concentration camps as destinations inside its other augmented reality game, Ingress. Ingress allowed multiple players to engage in missions to fight for control of the Earth on their smartphones. The game could approve monuments and landmarks as battle sites, which included former concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau and Sachsenhausen. Niantic did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean of The Simon Wiesenthal Center, said while he recognizes the potential for good virtual reality may bring – such as interviewing Holocaust survivors and potentially using them for holograms – there should be a line drawn when it comes to using memorial sites in games.
"This can't be another chapter, it can't be another scavenger hunt. That's a desecration of the memory of the victims and it's a cheapening of the history," Cooper said of using the Holocaust Memorial Museum for gaming.
Users can submit recommendations for different locations to be used in the Pokémon Go game, creating real world and digital world confusion for many players.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, an organization combats anti-Semitism, said it was incredibly inappropriate to trivialize a site where Jews and other people were enslaved and murdered and where the Jewish culture was annihilated.
Greenblatt called USA TODAY from Poland where he had just visited Auschwitz. He said seeing the place where so many men, women and children went to their deaths was a powerful experience. No game should be played in or around sites of mass genocide, out of respect to both victims and survivors, he said.
“These aren’t recreational sites, these are monuments to mass murder,” Greenblatt said.
Many voiced disapproval toward Pokémon Go for using sensitive locations as stops within their game, calling it offensive and disrespectful.
Toula Drimonis said in an e-mail she feels using the Holocaust Memorial Museum and other Holocaust memorial sites as places within the game is extremely disrespectful and incredibly tone deaf.
She said playing the game in places honoring the victims and survivors of the Holocaust is callous and insensitive, "equivalent to someone showing up to dance on your loved one's grave."