I am a member of a WW2 based gaming club. Although it may seem rather silly to those not involved in the game (it is much like chess) We are currently in a debate as to whether or not a particular team within our group is using an offensive name. Again, our game is based on WW2 and the context of the situation is WW2. This team has choosen to use the name Sondereinsatz kommando with the stated intent of "striking fear in the heart of opponents". I immediately objected, as in the context of WW2, and as you know, Sondereinsatz kommando's were eichmann's execution squads, and I found the name extremely offensive, and a glorification of a disgusting group of individuals. The argument pro revolve around the fact that at this time the term is associated with a "swat team" and is still in present use. I have dismissed this argument as the context is WW2, and the Sondereinsatzkommando's during WW2 were in fact execution squads, among other less than honorable activities. We have decided (although admittedly you may consider this a waste of time) to contact an expert outside our group involved with this issue to help us determine whether or not this should be considered offensive. That is my question for you, would you consider this offensive if you were involved with a certain group of people, who in the context of WW2 have taken it upon themselves to create a team, with the name Sondereinsatzkommando. Thank you for your time.
Jamie McCarthy Responds:Hello,
I am one of the volunteers who answers questions for The Holocaust History Project.
Before discussing "Sondereinsatzkommando," two similar terms should be defined, so there's no confusion:
* The Einsatzkommando were groups of SS men who operated well behind the Russian front in 1941 and were chiefly tasked with what is euphemistically called "mopping up." Their legacy is that they systematically murdered over a million civilians, mostly Jews. http://www.holocaust-history.org/intro-einsatz/
* The Sonderkommando were the Jews in extermination camps who were forced to haul the corpses of their fellow Jews, who were killed by poison gas, to the furnaces.
These words are quite similar and will be very familiar to any students of the history of the Holocaust. But they are not the same as the word you propose.
I note with interest that the term "Sondereinsatzkommando" does appear in modern usage in the context of a SWAT team. For example, here is a webpage I found on which someone in Switzerland has scanned in a collection of patches of various police-related occupations. It includes one labeled "Sondereinsatzkommando," which he translates as "Swat-Team":
I had not realized that the word was used in a modern context to refer to police troops of this type.
But nevertheless, in the context of World War Two, the word "Sondereinsatzkommando" would clearly be understood to refer to Eichmann's troops. These men are best-known for overseeing the rounding-up of approximately a half-million Hungarian Jews and sending them to their deaths in the gas chambers of Auschwitz. They were not shock troops; they dealt with civilians and never encountered much resistance from their soon-to-be victims. This is a gruesome, tragic massacre and not one to be celebrated or remembered in a game. In short, I would strongly urge your team to pick a different name.
If the game were not WW2-related, I could see this name being used without intent to offend -- but this being the case, the decision seems an easy one to me.
For what it is worth, I play online games with WW2 themes (though not like chess: I play Return to Castle Wolfenstein and the like). I would never use this term in a gaming context and would discourage other players from doing so.
Thank you for taking an interest in this and contacting us, and please feel free to contact us with any further questions.
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Last modified: November 1, 2003