Gamifying the Holocaust?

There are some areas of human experience that should undeniably be taken seriously and any attempt to engage with such themes – or position others to engage with them – should be given due care and consideration. At the same time, an overemphasis on the ethically fraught nature of certain phenomena and the formation of taboos around them can prove more counterproductive than beneficial. On that note, this blog explores the intersection of gamification and the Holocaust.

The site of Auschwitz-Birkenau. Photograph by Adam Brown, 2 February 2009.

The systematic physical destruction of Europe’s Jews by Nazi Germany and its collaborators during World War II might not be the most obvious – or appealing – facet of human history to connect gamification to. However, the years I’ve spent as a Holocaust researcher, teacher, and volunteer at the Jewish Holocaust Centre in Melbourne have convinced me that the connection needs to be explored – and explored soon. The sad and painful truth that in the coming years people will soon no longer be able to have the irreplaceable experience of meeting and hearing directly from survivors themselves is a truth that needs to be faced.

Moshe Fiszman, a survivor of the Warsaw Ghetto and Auschwitz, speaks to a group of students at the JHC, 8 May 2016.

One of the most powerful moments I’ve experienced working with Holocaust survivors at the JHC – many of whom continue to tell their story to thousands of museum visitors every year – was when one woman asked me with a passionate intensity:

How do we reach the young people?

I found myself pausing, unsure if I could offer any answer, before I simply said that I thought the JHC was doing a great job of reaching out to students. I may even have mentioned that it was a visit to the Centre’s museum as a Year 11 student in 2000 that proved the main influence on my decision (as someone of non-Jewish and non-German heritage) to focus much of my life on the Holocaust. I’m not sure whether or not my answer back then would have satisfied that survivor, whose name I’ve either forgotten or never knew. As amazingly important as the JHC’s current work is, that answer certainly wouldn’t satisfy me now.

On the question of whether or not the Holocaust should be gamified, one might first remark that it already was – though of course in a radically different way from what I mean here. Writing of the slave labour and suffering of prisoners in an Auschwitz sub-camp, survivor Benjamin Jacobs describes the following scenario in his memoir:

To increase the mine’s productivity further, I.G. Farben introduced bonus points, which could be redeemed at an I.G. Farben stand. Jewish workers, however, were limited to a maximum of four points, which got them very little. Nonetheless, the Kapos were pleased, since they got most bonuses… (2001, p. 153)

Discovering this passage in 2016, I reflected on the possible intersections of the Holocaust and gamification in the live video broadcast below:

Can gamification, which was used by the Nazis in a deeply problematic and troubling way in the concentration camps, now serve as a means of engaging people with the subject of the Holocaust in a productive and ethical fashion. As I emphasise in the above video, I’m not trying to answer this question here, but rather pose it as one that needs to be asked and examined further. You can probably tell from my broadcast that I certainly intend to look into this more myself. To be sure, many more interactive forms of Holocaust memory(s) have been developed in recent years, from the Shoah Foundation’s iWitness program to the Jewish Holocaust Centre’s own StoryPod kiosks and mobile app. Gamifying Holocaust education and memorialisation may be just around the corner. How long will it take to turn that corner?

Time will tell…


Jacobs, Benjamin 2001, The Dentist of Auschwitz, Lexington: The University Press of Kentucky.

Feature image: Site of Auschwitz I. Photograph by Graham Brown, 3 February 2009.

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