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WWE apologizes for using image of Auschwitz concentration camp in a promo video

The Auschwitz Memorial, pictured here in July 1997, criticized the WWE after the wrestling giant used a photo of the concentration camp in a promotional video.
Jack Guez
/
AFP via Getty Images
The Auschwitz Memorial, pictured here in July 1997, criticized the WWE after the wrestling giant used a photo of the concentration camp in a promotional video.

Updated April 9, 2023 at 3:48 PM ET

The wrestling entertainment giant WWE has apologized for its use of an image of the Auschwitz concentration camp to promote a match.

The image appeared in a five-minute video introducing a WrestleMania 39 contest between stars Dominik and Rey Mysterio. The shot, which appeared in the pre-show last weekend ahead of the live broadcast this past Saturday, was used as b-roll accompanying Dominik's comments about being a hardened criminal.

WWE drew backlash after fans recognized the image as a photo of the concentration camp located in Oświęcim, Poland.

"We had no knowledge of what was depicted. As soon as we learned, it was removed immediately. We apologize for this error," the WWE said in a statement to NPR on Sunday.

The Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp was built by Germans in occupied Poland in 1940 and quickly became one of World War II's largest extermination centers. More than 1.1 million men, women and children were murdered at Auschwitz before the camp was liberated in 1945.

Two days before the apology was issued, the Auschwitz Memorial called the WWE "shameless" in a statement on Twitter.

"The fact that [an] Auschwitz image was used to promote a WWE match is hard to call 'an editing mistake,' " the museum wrote. "Exploiting the site that became a symbol of enormous human tragedy is shameless and insults the memory of all victims of Auschwitz."

The shot of the Polish museum appeared to have been removed from an otherwise identical version during the official broadcast, according to WWE blogs and fans. It does not appear in replays of WrestleMania Night 1, replaced by generic footage of barbed wire and an empty, unidentifiable jail cell.

The WWE storyline goes that Dominik turned against his father, the WWE Hall-of-Famer Rey, after being influenced by Judgement Day, a villainous stable of wrestlers.

After a failed attempt to entice his father to a fight, Dominik landed in jail, which only added to the tough-guy persona he uses to mask his true spoiled-brat essence. (Dominik arrived at the mat on Saturday in a cop van. His father was chauffeured by Snoop Dogg in a lowrider.)

The storyline was one of several hits for WrestleMania fans. The show delivered its exclusive streamer, NBC's Peacock, most hours watched of any live event except the Super Bowl.

The in-person event also made history, setting an attendance record at SoFi Stadium. WWE sold over 161,000 tickets for two nights of matches.

Fans took to social media during the broadcast to confirm their suspicions about the Auschwitz stock footage.

"100% Auschwitz. Went there last year. Can never forget it," one Reddit user wrote. "Hoo boy, to be a fly on the wall in the next production meeting," came another reply.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Corrected: April 6, 2023 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous version of this story mischaracterized the Auschwitz Memorial as a polish museum. It's a Polish museum. And WrestleMania was misspelled as Wrestlemania.
Emily Olson
Emily Olson is on a three-month assignment as a news writer and live blog editor, helping shape NPR's digital breaking news strategy.
Emma Bowman