The Auschwitz Tattoo in Visual Memory

Wolfenstein: The New Order

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Wolfenstein: The New Order, Machine Games 2014

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The action-adventure first-person shooter video game “Wolfenstein: The New Order” is set in a contrafactual universe with the Nazis still in power in 1960. During a secret infiltration mission, the veteran and main protagonist William "B.J." Blazkowicz is captured as a labour slave and gets an inmate number tattooed on his right arm (not on the left, as in Auschwitz) by a machine. The game player actually has to comply with the order of a non player character who orders:“place your right arm in the machine…” and move his avatar to the tattoo apparatus. BJ’s inner voice comments: “You’re a thing, like cattle in this place…” The number then tattooed on his arm consists of the digits 04,15,15,13. Assigned to the letters of the alphabet they represent the word D-O-O-M. While “doom” anticipates the terror the protagonist awaits in the game, it also refers backwards in non-diegetic time to the ego-shooter-game “Doom”, which was the perhaps most famous product of the Wolfenstein-series in the 1990s. Designer John Romero himself once suggested the protagonists of “Doom” and “Wolfenstein” were having the same lineage. The aspect of itemizing B.J. not only as a labour slave of the Nazis but also as an item of the software developer adds to the complex web of relations the number tattoo evokes here. Later in the game, on his way back to the free world, B.J. removes the tattoo by cutting it out with a knife. The tattoo sequence in the game focusses on the moment of literal itemization. When the game switches from video sequence showing the tattooing back to the game itself, the protagonist first looks at his new tattoo, therefore repeating the gesture of showing the number tattoo, if only to himself. The overall insignificance of the number for the game itself points to a largely symbolic function of the tattoo for the chapter in camp Belica that is supposed to link the game back to the historical concentration camp system of the National Socialists. The concentration camp is not only evoked by the number tattoo but also by explicitly referring to the “selection” of the new inmates, the gate of camp Belica that reminds of the gate in Auschwitz, the location in East Europe (Croatia), the segregation of the camp into “blocks” and the crematorium, to name a few examples. However, even though the backstory relates to the Jewish genocide, the removal of the tattoo doesn’t point to any kind of survivor status the number awards for the protagonist. This indirect use could be called allusive or a triggering illustration.

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