Auschwitz and other memorials say no to Pokémon GO

Pokémon GO is hugely popular, but when Pokémon are located among memorial sites and in traditional places of solemn reflection, some ask game makers to think again. 

Mark Thiessen/AP
A sign is shown at the National Weather Service in Anchorage, Alaska, informing Pokemon players that it's illegal to trespass on federal property. The staff started noticing an uptick of people in the parking lot after the location was included as a gym in the popular game. The 'Pokemon Go' craze across the US has people wandering into yards, driveways, cemeteries, and even an off-limits police parking lot in search of cartoon monsters, prompting warnings that trespassers could get arrested or worse.

Pokémon GO players are everywhere, scouring streets and parks for elusive animated creatures. Now, some museums and memorial parks are asking Pokémon GO’s creator, Niantic, to remove their locations from the map, citing reasons of decorum and reverence.

Among the commemorative sites featured in the game are Germany’s Auschwitz Museum, a memorial to Holocaust victims located in an infamous former prison camp, and Arlington National Cemetery and the Holocaust Memorial Museum in the United States.

"This can't be another chapter, it can't be another scavenger hunt,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper, associate dean at the Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, told USA Today. “That's a desecration of the memory of the victims and it's a cheapening of the history."

Game players can currently wander the grounds of these memorials, searching for Pokémon to collect. At the Holocaust Memorial Museum, game players can discover a PokéStop, or an area where players can obtain free in-game items. Pokestops can also be found on Arlington Cemetery grounds.

Auschwitz Museum officials tweeted to NianticLabs on Tuesday, requesting the game creators remove collectible Pokémon from their grounds. Officials at several American memorial sites have also issued requests for Niantic to remove their locations from the game, and asked players to refrain from playing the game within the location’s boundaries.

“Out of respect for all those interred at Arlington National Cemetery, we require the highest level of decorum from our guests and visitors,” Arlington officials wrote in a statement on the cemetery’s mobile gaming policy. “Playing games such as 'Pokémon Go' on these hallowed grounds would not be deemed appropriate.”

It is difficult, Arlington spokesperson Stephen Smith told the Associated Press, for officials to know which cemetery visitors are using the memorial’s app, which helps users find their way through the massive grounds, and which visitors are merely there for the Pokémon.

Although some may find the game harmless, if silly, critics of Niantic’s decision to allow Pokémon pursuits on memorial grounds say that the game trivializes the significance of some of the gravest events in human memory.

Auschwitz, for example, commemorates the deaths of millions of Jews and other groups persecuted at the hands of the Nazi party in Germany. Memorials to massive genocide, says CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt, are no place for games.

Many have reacted negatively on social media to Niantic’s decision to locate Pokémon at sites of reverence, saying that the game company could have made better choices, and that playing video games at these sites is “akin to dancing on graves.”

This is not the first time Auschwitz has found itself party to game players questing on its grounds. Another NianticLabs game, Ingress, saw users visiting Holocaust memorial sites and former concentration camps such as Auschwitz, Dachau, and Sachsenhausen. In that augmented reality game, users could engage in virtual “battles” at various sites.

Pokémon GO has enjoyed massive popularity since its release a week ago, despite ongoing concerns about user privacy, trespassing, and safety. Some users have fallen or gotten hurt while distracted by the game, while others have been targeted for graver crimes, such as robbery.

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