Controversy is brewing around a Holocaust museum that recently opened in the online multiplayer game—the ongoing efforts of developer Luc Bernard to teach young users about the gruesome realities Jews faced during World War II.
Educating young people about the Holocaust is increasingly urgent work. Recent studies paint a grim picture of meager Holocaust knowledge among millennials and Gen Z-ers, with half of U.S. respondents unable to name a single concentration camp established during World War II. Luc Bernard, an independent game developer, has spent more than a decade trying to hammer in the Holocaust’s gruesome realities to the gamer set. When he announced he was writing a Holocaust-themed title in 2008, the backlash was swift. Undeterred, he eventually partnered with publisher Epic Games to release The Light in the Darkness, billed as a free educational game that recounts the story of a working-class family of Polish Jews in France during the Holocaust.
Bernard’s latest project involves establishing a Holocaust museum in Fortnite, the ultra-popular (and ultra-violent) multiplayer game that recently opened up real estate in its virtual worlds for users to freely develop. Currently the most popular metaverse with 400 million users, Fortnite—also owned by Epic Games—has the potential to be Bernard’s most impactful stage yet. The museum, which opened earlier this week, aims to teach visitors “about the heroes who saved Jewish lives during the Holocaust and also the Jewish members of the Resistance,” he says. Displays focus on lesser-known aspects of the Holocaust, such as the Tripolitania riots, a 1945 attack on Jews in North Africa. The information, however, is limited in scope—placards usually have a few sentences, and text was pulled from Wikipedia.
While Epic Games wasn’t directly involved in the museum’s development, the publisher worked closely with Bernard to ensure users engage with the space respectfully. (Rules, for example, prohibit shooting, shouting, and break dancing.) So far, physical Holocaust museums have cautiously supported Bernard’s efforts; the Anti-Defamation League doesn’t consider it an alternative to Holocaust education given how online multiplayer games persist as hotbeds for hate. To that end, Bernard has been bullied on social media by Holocaust deniers and Nick Fuentes, the white supremacist notable for meeting with former President Donald Trump and Kanye West before his antisemitic spiral.
Bernard’s museum may not be perfect, but it’s meeting the next generation exactly where they were raised. “I’m about making Holocaust education available to everyone, worldwide, free of cost,” Bernard told Artnet News. “Some 80 percent of Americans have not visited the Holocaust Museum [in Washington, D.C.]. That’s not their fault; museums aren’t accessible for most of the population since they’re in big cities. Museums are great, but we need to think about people who we are not reaching.”