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Bad idea

I HAVE never played a video game in my life. I am of the generation of Atari and Pacman, but I don’t know them firsthand. Now everyone is abuzz about a new video game, scheduled be on the market come January.

Its title is Sonderkommando Revolt.

It is a Holocaust video game about the uprising in Auschwitz of October, 1944, when the final Sonderkommando unit blew up the Krema IV gas chamber. In reality, three Nazi officers were killed in this revolt and, of course, hundreds of Jews.

One of the leaders of this revolt was a man named Zalman Gradowski, most famous for the bottle testimony he left buried in Auschwitz, a testimony to the horror of the Nazis and containing some details about the crematoria.

Gradowski’s buried words were unearthed after the war.

In Sonderkommando, the game, you are in Auschwitz with Gradowski, where he seeks his revenge on the Nazis by proxy of you, the player.

I watched the trailer to this video game, and it is quite horrible. Although the villains are the Nazis, you see gruesome and graphic images of Jews suffering and being executed, of digital Jews in black and white prisoner garb, in the crematoria, the barracks, the works.

You have the chilling train tracks, the barbed wire, even the infamous gate with Arbeit Macht Frei carved out.

In the game, you are in Auschwitz.

The research for the game was meticulous. And I understand that the Jewish Israeli on the team of creators of this video game meant no harm, and is himself distraught by the reaction to and perception of the game.

In his mind, apparently, he felt he was giving the Jewish victim the opportunity to live out a Jewish fantasy of revenge on the Nazis, and making known the story of Zalman Gradowski, including his wish to seek revenge against the Nazis (a topic in and of itself).

Perhaps the creators’ intentions were well and good for the purpose of catharsis, but the execution of this idea could not be more disturbing.  Although well intentioned, this is a serious misappropriation of the Holocaust.

SO now the Holocaust is the subject of games and entertainment?

The new cool game to play at parties and arcades?

Now the subject of genocide, graphically expressed, is made light of as just another form of entertainment?

Such a game betrays the Holocaust’s unparalleled evil, and bolsters those who trivialize the enormity of the Holocaust.

True, the game is a form of interacting with this dark narrative in history, but something about it is just simply, at best, tasteless, and, at worst, astonishingly offensive.

Granted the Jews are portrayed as the prisoners engaged in a violent uprising against evil, but still. In particular, there is one image of dead Jews stacked like the inanimate objects of piled wood near a fire place — but they are human beings, Jews, dead, with their blood dripping all around, stacked lifeless behind a cage. To me —  and I admit I am not a video afficionado, so what do I know about the nature of these games? — this image is bone chilling, creepy and ghastly.

Not to mention, the whole vibe of the video is the choreographing of revisionist history. For, needless to say, the Nazis were the ones who were the killers and the Jews the victims.

It is true that there was this uprising, and it is an important story to chronicle and teach.

In fact, the whole chapter of the Sonderkommando unit in general is acutely painful and an important part of the story. This unit was comprised of the Jewish prisoners who were forced to clear the dead bodies from the gas chamber and place them in the ovens and furnaces to be burned.

For those Jews forced to do this job, the Sonderkommando unit truly was a hell within a hell.

But I don’t believe a video game is the right medium for this all-too-painful and real lesson of history. Read We Wept Without Tears, which is as close in the realm of the written word to the inferno of the Sonderkommando unit as you will get, but don’t take a corpse of someone who was real, who represents the death of millions, and — as much as the purpose is to retroactively empower the Jew — make it the subject of entertainment

BY all means, let the story of Zalman Gradowski be known.

I heard of him for the first time only when I followed the trial at which Holocaust denier David Irving sued historian Deborah Lipstadt.

To the creator of the video:You are doing a good thing by telling Gradowski’s story. You are right: We should all be more familiar with him and the unimaginably grim and horrible task of what those of the Sonderkommando had to go through, as well as the revolt led by Gradowski.

But, let thie story be told in a different way, in a different medium.

Just as we go to press, it has been announced that this video game has been cancelled.

Copyright © 2010 by the Intermountain Jewish News

Tehilla Goldberg

IJN columnist | View from Central Park

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