Throughout the Wolfenstein series, one question has remained unanswered: Is protagonist B.J. Blazkowicz Jewish? His name sounds Ashkenazic or Eastern European in origin. He loves killing Nazis. And Jewish mysticism has become a thread in his most recent adventures.
Id Software co-founders John Carmack and Tom Hall have stated for years that the hero was meant to be of Jewish descent, but the original games never made this explicitly canon.
Here’s Carmack’s response to a fan who asked, “is B.J. Blazkowicz Jewish?”
@ID_AA_Carmack @TheSilkiest @ThatTomHall That's been suggested. My intent was: his mother was Jewish, tried to hide that, unsuccessfully.— Bat Tomb Hallway (@ThatTomHall) March 2, 2014
A more recent interview with Brian Bloom, who provides the voice of Blazkowicz, was a bit more introspective about the question.
“I think what’s more important is: does B.J. identify that way?” Bloom told PCGamesN. “I think what’s more important to him is that he sees himself as somebody who wants to fight bigotry no matter what or who he is. I think that’s probably the greater takeaway, rather than getting bogged down in the specificity, although the story does get into that because that’s a fulcrum or lens you can use to orbit that subject.”
But Wolfenstein 2: The New Colossus gives a definitive, in-universe answer to the question. Blazkowicz is canonically Jewish. Be aware that we’re going to be diving into slight spoiler territory from here on out.
Who were his parents?
The newest game in the series digs deep in Blazkowicz’s past, particularly his relationship with his parents. His father was an abusive bigot who married his Jewish mother for a connection to her family’s business.
Another character in the game refers to him as “the half-breed child of a salesman and a Polish Jew,” which means his enemies are very much aware of his lineage.
Bloom was right in that Blazkowicz doesn’t seem to practice the faith of his mother, at least not in any aspects of his life we see in the games, but it’s now a canonical aspect of his character. His past and lineage matters in a direct way, even if he doesn’t state it as such in the game itself.
It’s also worth noting that Orthodox Judaism defers to matrilineal descent, meaning your status as a Jew or gentile is passed down from your mother, not your father. Many secular Jews think of Judaism as a culture or ethnicity, so that while they don’t practice the faith, they still identify within it and its history.
“To speak of descent — matrilineal or patrilineal — itself implies a remarkable assumption: That Jewishness can be a matter of descent, rather than belief; that the foundation of Jewish identity is genealogy rather than theology,” Meir Soloveichik wrote in the Rohr Chabad House at Stanford. “In Jewish chosenness, spiritual identity is inextricably bound up with familial identity. One born to Jewish parents is a Jew, a member of God's covenant, no matter the extent to which one conforms to the tenets of the Tora or accepts Jewish dogma. In this respect Judaism differs fundamentally from Christianity, in which participation is essentially a matter of faith, rather than descent.”
So by Jewish traditions, Blazkowicz doesn’t have to practice his faith in order to be Jewish himself; the status was passed down to him through his mother’s family. Modern teaching is much less picky about which of your parents is or was Jewish, but we’re viewing Blazkowicz’s life almost exclusively through the lens of his fight against Nazi Germany. In that context his mother, her family and any and all children would be targets of the Reich.
The question of Blazkowicz’ faith and its importance in the Wolfenstein lore has been an interesting talking point for a long time. And now we have a definitive answer.