Wolfenstein. The Old Blood (2015) arrived in store earlier this month. It is a prequel to MachineGames’ highly acclaimed Wolfenstein. The New Order (2014). WOB is shorter than WNO: in about six hours you can play through two different locations: Castle Wolfenstein and the town of Wulfberg. For the true fans, WOB is a trip down memory lane. For the newbies: this is a good game to start playing the Wolfenstein series. For those who dig deeper: what is the Jewish feast Purim doing in a game series criticized for its (allegedly) Nazi fetishism and occultism?
Trip down memory lane
As I said: WOB is a trip down memory lane. And although – as a small DLC of and a prequel to WNO – it cannot live up to the high narrative quality of its predecessor, there is lots of fun to be found. We’ve got the electrically enhanced Übersoldate and the infamous ‘SS Paranormal Division’, both already featured in Return to Castle Wolfenstein and Wolfenstein 2009. We have a crazy high ranking female SS officer meddling with occult powers which would be better left alone. WOB’s Helga von Schabbs is a playful reference to both Helga von Bulow from RtCW and Doctor Schabbs from the world famous third series installment, Wolfenstein 3D.
Dead German kings
In RtCW the Nazis tried to resurrected King Henry the Fowler (German: Heinrich der Vogler, 876-936), which was a nice reference to Himmler’s (1900-1945) idea that he was a descendent of this Caroling king. It was his spiritual guide Karl Wiligut (1866-1946) who whispered more than one occult piece of bullshit into Himmler’s ears. In RtCW the resurrection was done by SS-occultist Marianne Blavatsky, a reference to Helene Blavatsky (1831-1891), founder of the Theosophical Society.
In WOB Helga von Schabbs is tempering with yet another famous German king, king Otto I (‘the Great’, 912-973) and not by accident the son of Henry the Fowler from RtCW. A very nice touch from MachineGames is an inscription you can find in Castle Wolfenstein (modeled after the historical ‘SS-Castle’ Wewelsburg in Westphalia, Germany). It reads: Edit regine cineres hic sarcophagus habet. It is a reference to a lead box found by archeologists in the Magdeburg Cathedral in Germany in 2008. The text can be translated as: ‘The remains of Queen Eadgyth are in this sarcophagus.’ The mentioned queen Eadgyth (910-946) is the historical Saxon wife of king Otto. (How here remains ended up in Magdeburg is a story in itself.)
The most intriguing part of WOB, as far as I am concerned, are two reference to Blazkowicz’s Jewish ancestry. B.J., being the protagonist of the game series, was not identified as such until recently with regards to the release of WNO. In an interview with the German section of IGN.com, Tom Hall, the old lead designer W3D confirmed rumors on the internet that Blazkowitcz is not only Polish, but also Jewish. Hall:
My intent was: his mother was Jewish, tried to hide that, unsuccessfully.
WNO was already littered with references to B.J.’s mixed Jewish and Polish background, as well as to Judaism in general. The fact that B.J. could read Hebrew and speak Polish, combined with references to ‘my/your people’ (being the prime victim of the Second World War) and the identification of B.J. with the Biblical Shimshon by WNO’s prime Jewish character Set Roth, it all adds up beautifully.
‘In Abraham’s bosom’
In WOB, MachineGames adds two more references to B.J.’s Jewish identity, although – as in WNO – no explicit reference is found to Jews or Judaism itself. When your comrade Wesley has been killed by the Nazis, you report his death to the German resistance Kessler and his daughter Annette with the words: ‘in Abraham’s bosom’.
The phrase ‘being in Abraham’s bosom’ is a phrase used in Rabbinic literature to describe the righteous dead waiting Judgment Day. Later on in the game, Blazkowicz rescues two members of the German resistance, a father named Kessler and his adoptive daughter Annette. Just before B.J. is heading to defeat the games prime antagonist, Helga von Schabbs, Annette asks B.J. what day it is.
Feast of Purim
When B.J. tells her it is the 17th of March, a Sunday, she replies ‘the day of Purim’, which B.J. acknowledges. Purim in 1946 (WOB also features an allohistorical narrative) was indeed celebrated on that particular day. Purim is the Jewish feast connected to the Book of Ester remembering the first (planned) genocide on the Jewish people in history. Fortunately, in the Book of Ester this genocide is prevented by the clever Ester herself.
From a theological point of view WOB, like WNO, tries to postulate B.J. and his gruesome Nazi killing as a more or less righteous cause. Because he is Jewish, he has all the right to defend his people – the Jews – against the monstrosities of the Nazi regime which was exactly aiming at the destruction of Judaism in Europe. By connecting B.J. to both Shishon (WNO) and Ester (WOB) MachineGames gives a more rightful place to Judaism and the fate of the Jewish people during the Second World War than ever before in the game series.
And that is a good thing.