Visiting the Holocaust Museum was one of the most wrenching activities of my life. I was in Washington DC for a meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature when my friend Jeff came across the Atlantic to attend. He wanted to see the Museum and I reluctantly agreed to accompany him. About half-way through I found a secluded bench, sat, and wept. I simply couldn’t take the weight of the sadness and cruelty this represented. I have trouble telling another person “no,” let alone striking, or harming them. How could millions of people simply be discounted? Murdered for being born who they were? Could there be anything more inhumane? A quote from the recently departed Elie Wiesel hung on the wall behind my bench. “Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.” My wife asked if I would be okay. “I don’t know,” I said.
I have to admit to being a Pokémon illiterate. I don’t know who or what Pokémon is. I do know it/he represents a game universe that originated in Japan. The last “game” I ever played was Myst. Before that it was Pong. I suspect that growing up without computers made real games seem, well, real. I don’t have time for computer games and I wouldn’t know an X-Box if if fell on my head. I don’t even know if they still exist. You’d have to be dead, however, not to know that Pokémon Go is all that anyone cares about any more. An app that lets you “find” Pokémon in various places, adults and kids alike are blindly walking out in front of cars to get her/it. One of the undying lessons of my childhood was, “if the ball rolls out into the street, don’t run after it!” Natural selection at work.
So what do Pokémon and the Holocaust Museum have to do with each other? Nothing at all. Or thus it should be. A story in the Washington Post shares the plea of the museum for people to stop seeking Pokémon there. One of the sites programmed for the whimsical creatures is more sacred than a church, synagogue, or mosque. Genocide is not a game. Headlines boldly proclaim that Pokémon Go is great for businesses. The Holocaust Museum is not about business. It is a mass grave on a scale that the human mind simply can’t conceive. A place to remind us where hatred and fascism lead. As difficult as it may be, we need to visit that terrifying place and we need to remember that it began as distrust of those who are different.