Can a game interest young players in the history of the Holocaust?

The terms “video game ”and“ Holocaust ”do not seem to belong to the same sentence, and yet Luc Bernard worked on precisely such a thing. Concerned about the upsurge in incidents of anti-Jewish hatred in the United States and around the world, and motivated by the desire to bring Holocaust education to a new generation, Bernard took over a project he had initiated. aside almost 10 years ago. “It was completely different back then, and thank goodness I didn’t finish it,” he says. The main difference between now and then? The addition of 83-year-old scholar Joan Salter appointed to the Order of the British Empire for service to Holocaust education and Holocaust survivor child as the game’s author.

Meanwhile, Bernard has had a long career in the game, having worked on 2009 Mecho Wars and the Pocket god series, produced Kitten Squad (PETA’s first video game for consoles) and created Paraiso Island, a hurricane rescue game for Puerto Rico. There is also a personal side to his efforts. Bernard’s grandmother looked after the children of Kindertransport, Jewish refugee children who fled Nazi Germany to Britain in the late 1930s. Bernard, however, did not learn of the hidden Jewish roots. of his family only as a teenager.

Called Light in the darkness and set in Bernard’s hometown in France, the game illustrates how a seemingly normal society can quickly turn against Jews. The characters in the game, a Polish Jewish family in France, are fictional, but the events are based on things that actually happened, including many in Salter’s family. “No matter how good a writer might be, they could never have the same emotion and feelings about the Holocaust compared to someone who actually lived through it – even if she was just that. she and her family lived it as a child, which is why I think it has become something special.

The game follows the family’s experience in the run-up to the Vel d’Hiv roundup in Paris in July 1942, when a mass arrest of foreign Jewish families (including more than 4,000 children) by French police took place. take place at the request of the German authorities. They were held in horrific conditions before being taken to internment camps, and eventually to camps like Auschwitz where they were murdered.

For Salter and Bernard, precision and realism were essential, on everything from dates and places to uniforms. When Bernard sent Salter photos of some of the work he had already done, she immediately understood that he had Nazis to round up the children. “And I said no, it wasn’t the Nazis. It was the French police, ”says Salter. An important distinction, since the Vichy government rounded up the Jews even before the Nazis wanted to. The conversation evolved from there.

“This is the biggest criticism,” says Bernard. “She will notice every detail. Long story short, the game won’t be released unless Joan “approves it.”

Salter immediately understood that Bernard would cling to the fact that she was a Vel d’Hiv survivor. “But, of course, I was a young child,” she says, “while for me it is much more important that I spent 40 years researching and recording testimonies.”

Bernard hopes that by playing the game and experiencing the story, the user will become attached to the characters and be more eager to learn more about the Holocaust and the discrimination against Jews. “You’re trying to build empathy, so it has to be historically correct without hitting people’s heads,” says Salter. “You show how complicated it is. As with any drama, you have to empathize with the characters and then slowly watch their lives fall apart through no fault of their own.

Meanwhile, Bernard saw a video game industry where the only conversation games with their players about World War II were about American soldiers slaughtering Nazis, completely ignoring the horrors of the Holocaust. “It may be controversial, but I believe pop culture turned the Nazis into cartoon villains, like the zombie Nazis in Call of Duty and Wolfenstein (what I like). You lessen the real evil of who the Nazis are and what they did… and you take advantage of the Jewish trauma, ”Salter adds:“ You have to be very careful between disinfecting the Holocaust and really making people understand absolute inhumanity. . . “

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