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Row explodes over Amazon Nazi-hunter show

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Is it wrong to tell fictional stories about the Holocaust? A new TV show about vigilante justice has been accused of sensationalising the genocide of millions for entertainment purposes.

Prisoners stand on scattered squares across a giant chess board. One by one, they are ordered to move around the grid as human pawns. When the time comes to take a “piece” from the board, their sadistic captors order them to kill one another.

This cruel game of human chess is a shocking and evocative depiction of evil perpetrated in Auschwitz. But there’s just one catch: it never happened.

The sequence, which appears in Amazon’s new series Hunters, has been criticised this week by several Jewish groups. The 10-part drama starring Al Pacino follows a vigilanteA person who tries in an unofficial way to prevent or punish crime. They do not have any legal authority.  group in the 1970s that tracks down hundreds of escaped Nazis living in the US, and brings them to justice.

While the show is advertised as a fictional drama, it has been accused of “Jewsploitation” for its depiction of Auschwitz, where an estimated one million people were murdered.

Karen Pollack, chief executive of the Holocaust Educational Trust, called the fictional scene “flippant entertainment”. The Auschwitz Memorial has condemned it as “foolishness” and “caricatureAn exaggerated description or picture of someone.“.

Hunters comes in an important year. In January, over 200 survivors – many in their 90s – gathered at Auschwitz to mark the 75th anniversary of its liberation. The former extermination camp in Poland was part of the Nazi campaign to eradicate Jews from Europe. Despite this, anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial are growing. With so few surviving witnesses to the Holocaust, the Auschwitz Memorial claims that authors and artists have an obligation to stick to documented accounts of survivors, warning that the invention in Hunters “welcomes future deniers”.

Producer David Weil responded that he did not wish to misrepresent “specific, real acts of trauma”, adding, “Symbolic representations provide individuals access to an emotional and symbolic reality that allows us to better understand the experiences of the Shoah.”

Weil’s show has ex-Nazi officials in powerful positions conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in America. While this did not take place, Hunters does draw on historical fact. NasaThe National Aeronautics and Space Administration, responsible for the US space programme. knowingly employed Nazis after the war, and officials in death camps did play cruel games with their prisoners. While many argue the chess scene is in bad taste, it certainly reminds its viewers of the scale of evil taking place at Auschwitz.

So, is it wrong to tell fictional stories about the Holocaust?

Telling tales

Some would say the Holocaust is off-limits when it comes to fiction. The true stories are enough to tell us what happened, anything else becomes unnecessary, morbid entertainment. At best, such fictions run the risk of becoming the accepted version of history. At worst, they can encourage Holocaust deniers to suggest that true accounts are also simply fictional.

Of course it isn’t wrong, others argue. We should value art for how it affects us, whether or not it is based on fact. Fiction has long been a medium for understanding the world. It prompts us to think about the most important issues and empathise with characters on a deeper level. Fictional stories about the Holocaust bring to life the horrors of what happened, which can be difficult to imagine.


Vigilante – A person who tries in an unofficial way to prevent or punish crime. They do not have any legal authority.

Caricature – An exaggerated description or picture of someone.

Nasa – The National Aeronautics and Space Administration, responsible for the US space programme.

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  • Some people say

    “Art is supposed to change us, to challenge us – and, yes, even to trick us.” John D’Agata, American essayist
  • Dive in deeper

    • ???? An examination of previous allegations of anti-semitism and Amazon’s reactions. The New York Times (1500 words; paywall)
    • ???? The story of The Tattooist of Auschwitz, and a relevant discussion about fiction and the Holocaust. The Guardian (1,200 words)
    • ???? “It’s all good fun, but it’s not good history”. The Day deals with historical fact and fiction in The Crown. The Day (700 words)
    • ???? A strong argument for reading Hitler’s book in order to avoid repeating past mistakes. The New Yorker (800 words)

Six steps to discovery

    • ▶️ An illuminating TED talk on Holocaust Denial, truth, lies, and fake news. TED (15.31)
    • ???? A witty defence of Hunters in The Guardian, in which one writer describes catharsis and empowerment watching the show. The Guardian (800 words)
  1. Think about the introduction in bold type. Based on your background reading what other questions do you have?
  2. Make sure that you understand all of the key words.
  3. Read the quote under Some People Say in the left-hand column. What reflections do you have about this topic?
    1. The Boy in Striped Pyjamas is a fictional fable about two friends, one of them is a prisoner in Auschwitz. Imagine you have a friend in the camp and write a letter to them.
    2. “Fiction is truer than fact.” Split into two groups and write down arguments for and against this statement respectively. When you have finished, swap your lists. Are you convinced?
    1. What can we learn from fictional stories?
    2. Is vigilante justice ever the answer?