Amazon’s new television series, Hunters, has been criticised for inventing aspects of the Holocaust.
The series, starring Hollywood icon Al Pacino, follows a team of Nazi hunters in 1970s America. The Holocaust on screen has often provoked debate and now, with survivors dying out, it feels essential to call out a series that feels, at best, in bad taste and, at worst, actively dangerous.
The scene in question
The most problematic scene features prisoners at Auschwitz being forced to murder each other while being used in a game of human chess.
Unlike say, Quentin Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds, which presents an alternate history in which Adolf Hitler is murdered at a film premiere, many viewers were unsure whether the incident depicted had really occurred or not.
In reality, no such thing ever happened and it has sparked controversy.
Why people are angry
The Holocaust is in the process of moving from living history to history.
Survivors are dying out and the dangers of Holocaust denial are very real. With the loss of primary sources, it becomes easier for those with a malevolent agenda to spread lies about one of the darkest periods of human history. George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it” and it is not without reason that the phrase “Never Forget” has become synonymous with Holocaust remembrance.
Somewhere in the region of 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz and it has widely become recognised as the ultimate symbol of the Nazis’ "Final Solution to the Jewish Question". Since the concentration camp was both an industrial complex and a killing facility rather than simply a death camp, much of the survivor testimony we have comes from those who endured Auschwitz.
It is a prominent reminder of the dangers of hatred and where prejudice can lead. There is no need for embellishment or exaggeration where the camps are concerned, the barbarism that went on speaks for itself. It is undeniable that such inventions could aid Holocaust deniers with people already questioning the very real atrocities of the period.
David Weil, the programme’s producer and the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, has insisted the series is “inspired by true events” and was never aiming for documentary style realism. He said:
It is true that Nazis perpetrated widespread and extreme acts of sadism and torture - and even incidents of cruel 'games' - against their victims. I simply did not want to depict those specific, real acts of trauma.
Jewish groups speak out
There has been anger from within the Jewish community, not least because this comes just a few days after Amazon was criticised for selling a book published by prominent Nazi Julius Streicher in 1938.
Auschwitz Memorial, the charity that maintains the former camp as a historical site, tweeted:
Auschwitz was full of horrible pain and suffering documented in the accounts of survivors. Inventing a fake game of human chess for @huntersonprime is not only dangerous foolishness and caricature. It also welcomes future deniers. We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.
Karen Pollock, the chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, was similarly unequivocal:
I understand that there are already movies and series that depict the Holocaust and quite clearly not documentaries or news footage from the time. Many are very powerful. But this seemed a step too far. Wasn’t it horrific enough?
One would think Amazon might be on best behaviour given the response to a recent story about them selling an antisemitic book by an actual Nazi, but apparently not. It might not have been the intention of the writing staff but anything that leads people to question the vercaity of the Holocaust has no place on television.