Auschwitz-Themed Escape Room Stops Selling Tickets Amid Backlash

Escape from prison cell picture by Shutterstock

In a move surprising almost no one, an escape room inspired by the Auschwitz Nazi death camp has decided to stop selling tickets amid public outcry over its apparent exploitation of one of the darkest chapters in the world's history.

According to a report by CNN, the company, Dostaň Se Ven, located in the Czech Republic, released a statement yesterday explaining that the escape room event was designed to draw attention to the horrors of the holocaust, not commercialize or make light of them. The company called the backlash to its Auschwitz escape room "understandable," and pulled the sale of tickets for it from its website as a result.

The Belica labour camp from Wolfenstein: New Order

The company's remaining escape rooms include a Hannibal torture chamber, a murderous clown story, and one that's even inspired by The Green Mile. The way the existing marketing for these events appears to treat them like horror-movie reenactments makes it hard to believe that Dostaň Se Ven's Auschwitz escape room was more a museum art piece or historical experiment than social entertainment predicated on cheap thrills. And it wasn't even the first of its kind. A Greek escape room company came under fire last month for its own version of the activity. Prior to that, a Dutch company had the terrible idea of trying to make an Anne Frank bunker.

Escape rooms have been on the rise around the world for several years now, offering up games that are more adventurous, interactive and improvisational than a board game at home or playing pool at the bar.

The escape room takes puzzles reminiscent of classic adventure games and builds them into 3D environments where players have a limited amount of time to piece together clues and find a way to escape their enclosures. Some puzzle rooms don't really have themes. Others take place in more unusual locations like say, an old, decommissioned warship. Even Nintendo is getting in on the action, announcing last fall that a series of Zelda-themed escape rooms would be taking place around the United States throughout 2017.

So if a Zelda-like dungeon is fertile ground for teams of people solving puzzles in real life, why not Auschwitz? Despite the creators of the event stressing its educational purpose, CNN reported that Dostaň Se Ven's marketing for the simulation enticed players with the promise of playing "Interesting escape game with your friends and put yourself in the shoes of the victims of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 'Last shower' will await you. But there's a difference: you can get out of this room alive."

Obviously, there was nothing 'interesting' about the real Auschwitz and most people did not escape it alive. To add insult to injury, Dostaň Se Ven was advertising discounted tickets all last week in the lead up to this year's Holocaust Memorial Day, a time as inappropriate as any to be trying to sell tickets to an Auschwitz horror game.

It's not the first time that the intersection of game mechanics and the systematic murder of millions of Jewish people has caused controversy either. Back in 2010, a Ukrainian programmer living in Israel ran into trouble for a Wolfenstein 3D mod that invited the player to partake in a "bloody tale of revenge set in a Nazi concentration camp. Called Sonderkommando Revolt, the mod sparked a backlash despite its creators calling it apolitical and "just for fun." Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a museum focusing on the Holocaust, told Kotaku at the time that he was worried that the horrors of the holocaust were too complex and significant for a one note shooter revenge fantasy. "I don't think even the best combination of game developers would ever be successful [at doing so]. This is not an issue that should be reduced to a game," he said.

Just like the escape room, the modders for Sonderkommando ended up yanking their project as well.


    We make films and video games that make entertainment from all kinds of bloody, violent periods in history from the Crusades to World War II to modern warfare. I think these things have merit even as entertainment because they still plant in people the seed of wanting to learn more. I think more people have an awareness and even an understanding of the Crusades today because of games like Assassin's Creed, Crusader Kings and Medieval 2 than there would otherwise be.

    I'm not sure there's enough information in the article here to pass judgement on the escape room, but my instinct is it shouldn't be automatically off-limits simply because it mixes atrocity with entertainment.

      Wrong. People don't play Doom or watch Hollywood blockbusters because they are genuinely interested in Second World War history or the rise of fascism. Those themes merely serve as cheap morbid titillation. In the case of this escape room, learning about a shameful historic event is one thing, trying to make a dollar out of it by Disney-fying it is something very different. Just how detached from reality must a person be to think this would be well-received?

        I think you missed my point, and I think you're projecting your own interpretations from those games and movies onto others. The 'Disney' thing seems to have come entirely from your own imagination because the article says nothing of the kind.

        All it takes is for one person who visited the thing to say "I wonder how close this was to what people in Auschwitz really went through" and then go read up on it. That same person might not have chosen to learn about it without that prompt.

        Last edited 30/01/17 9:09 am

        People don't play Doom ... because they are genuinely interested in Second World War history or the rise of fascism.
        I can't imagine they would! They play it to kick demon ass!

      These topics definitely shouldn't be off-limits. Films like Schindler's List are incredibly important and can be vitally educative by giving some empathy and understanding into the prisoners' experiences.

      But it's pretty important that if they're not trying to be thought provoking they should at least be respectful, or it trivialises the whole period. Maybe this escape room was too commercial (imagine the advertising on social media: "Escape from Aushwitz!!") and people felt it wasn't respectful enough to what they or their ancestors went through.

        I agree there are certainly things the escape room company might have done that would have crossed the line. I don't think we have enough information (from this article at least) to say for sure if that's the case, is all.

    Auschzwitz isn't a good idea for many reasons.
    A Gestapo escape would have been okay from a social and historical perspective. Maybe a getaway from Amiens prison or Shell House in Denmark. Not the death camps though.

    Having visited Auschwitz recently I am of the opinion that their escape room idea was not cool at all.

    Auschwitz is a horrible, soul destroying place, having born witness to atrocities that are unspeakable. No one should try and recreate something like that for "fun" activities.

      The Holocaust was an atrocity certainly, but why would it be off limits while something like the Crusades, where as many as 9 million were killed (primarily Jews and Muslims), is fine? I'm not casting favour one way or the other, I'm just interested to know what leads you to treat one differently to the other.

      Last edited 31/01/17 8:23 am

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