The game, Ingress, is played by millions worldwide on tablets, smartphones and computers. Competitors seek to control portals as a stepping stone for the conquest of earth.
But making places like Auschwitz – scene of 1.2 million of the six million Jewish dead of the Holocaust – as “prizes” to be won in the game has been condemned as sick and an affront to the memory of the millions of victims.
Players are allowed to choose monuments and landmarks but not until Google has approved them – which it did this week for Auschwitz and the Nazi concentration camps of Dachau and Sachsenhausen.
“All of us here are horrified and appalled,” said Guenther Morsch, head of the Sachsenhausen Memorial. The camp, outside Berlin, was one of the first set up by the Nazis to incarcerate political enemies in.
Google – infamous among web publishers for instituting arbitrary advertising bans – apologized for adding them to the game but said they were of “significant historical value.”
“After we were made aware that a number of historical markers on the grounds of former concentration camps in Germany had been added we determined that they did not meet the spirit of our guidelines, and began the process of removing them in Germany and elsewhere in Europe.” said game maker John Hanke, the man who invented Google streetview.
“We apologize that this happened,” he added.
Holocaust survivor Abraham Foxman, retiring chairman of the Anti Defamation League, said: “The more society trivializes the Holocaust, the more often we are likely to see this phenomenon. That even concentration camps become the subject of computer games. It is sad, very sad.”
Rabbi Avraham Cooper, of the Simon Wiesenthal Centre in Israel, called the game “disturbing” and said he would be willing to take Ingress and Google managers on a week long trip to the sites of the death camps to educate them about the Holocaust.
“Then they could see Auschwitz and Dachau and understand just what they represented,” he added.