Amazon's Nazi Hunters Show Criticized for Fictionalizing the Holocaust

The fake game of human chess in David Weil's 'Hunters' is "a dangerous foolishness & caricature," wrote the Auschwitz Memorial.
Bettina Makalintal
Brooklyn, US
Screenshot via trailer

Hunters, a new Amazon Prime series created by David Weil and produced by Jordan Peele (among many others), follows a group of Nazi hunters in 1970s New York City, led by Al Pacino and starring Percy Jackson's Logan Lerman. The premise is inspired, as Weil told Entertainment Weekly late last year, by the stories of "grand good versus grand evil" that Weil heard from his Holocaust-survivor grandmother. As a result, Hunters bears very loose similarity to the idea of real life Nazi hunters, as Esquire has pointed out.


That loose approach to history has already put Hunters in hot water, however. The show was released on Friday, and the Auschwitz Memorial took to Twitter on Sunday to call out a scene from the show's first episode. The scene—which is also part of the opening credits for the series, as Variety reported—depicts a violent game of human chess in which Jewish prisoners are killed each time a player loses a piece.

"Auschwitz was full of horrible pain & suffering documented in the accounts of survivors. Inventing a fake game of human chess for @huntersonprime is not only a dangerous foolishness & caricature. It also welcomes future deniers. We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy," the tweet read. The account went on to describe the scene as "disrespectful and dangerous" in a follow-up tweet.

Weil's entire statement to the controversy can be read in full on Variety. In it, Weil wrote that although Hunters is inspired by true events, it "was never purported to be" documentary, as one of its top considerations was to tell the story of the Holocaust "without borrowing from a real person's specific life or experience."

"Why did I feel this scene was important to script and place in series? To most powerfully counteract the revisionist narrative that whitewashes Nazi perpetration, by showcasing the most extreme—and representationally truthful—sadism and violence that the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews and other victims," Weil wrote. "And why did I feel the need to create a fictional event when there were so many real horrors that existed? After all, 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."

Between Hunters, Taika Waititi's hit Jojo Rabbit, and even going back to 2009's Inglorious Basterds, it's clear that some people want to push the format for telling a Holocaust story and figure out new ways to fictionalize it. As the conversation around those projects has gone, it's clear that not everybody is going to be on board. But, as Weil wrote at the end of his statement, he and the Auschwitz Memorial are ultimately in agreement: "I believe we are very much on the same side and working toward the same goals. And I hope we can continue a dialogue on how to achieve those goals."