Hunters Auschwitz

Being in a disagreement with the official Auschwitz Memorial is not an ideal position for anyone, but given the circumstances, Hunters creator and co-showrunner David Weil seems to be doing it about as respectfully and thoughtfully as possible.

Over the weekend, the official Auschwitz Memorial Twitter account criticized the new Amazon series, which stars Al Pacino as the leader of a group of Nazi hunters in the 1970s, for “inventing a fake game of human chess” for a concentration camp flashback, calling it “dangerous foolishness & caricature.” Now Weil has responded, explaining his decision in a way that comes off as level-headed instead of overly defensive.

Auschwitz was the most notorious concentration camp in the world, the site of unfathomable horrors and over a million deaths in the 1940s. Yesterday, the memorial’s official account condemned Hunters and tweeted an image of the fictional chess match scene in question, saying that they “honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.” Weil responded in a letter to Deadline, pointing out that the show was never meant to be an exact recreation of historical events and explaining that he went out of his way to avoid depicting the “specific, real acts of trauma” that occurred there.

This is obviously a tricky topic, and it’s inevitable that people are going to feel strongly about it. From my perspective, all I can do is say that I appreciate how Weil’s response actually feels like it came from an adult who seems to be aware of the responsibility that comes with tackling a story which intersects with one of the most horrible eras of human history. This is clearly something that weighed heavily on the minds of the people who made the series: when we interviewed the co-showrunner, they told us “[The Holocaust scenes] were fictionalized, in part, because we didn’t think that we would have the ability to do those stories justice. We weren’t there for that.” We can talk all day about the quality of the series (your mileage may vary), but at the very least, I feel like other showrunners should use this as an example of how to thoughtfully, tactfully, and respectfully respond to controversy.

Read Weil’s statement in full below.

Hunters Trailer

Hunter Creator’s Response to Auschwitz Memorial’s Criticism

Years ago I visited Auschwitz and I saw the gates my grandmother was forced to enter decades earlier and the barracks she was forced to live in as a prisoner. I saw vestiges of the nightmarish world she had survived. It was an experience that forever altered the course of my life. It was the moment consecrated in time and memory that I sought to make good on doing my part – however big or however small – to ensure the promise of “Never Again.” I believed then – as I do now – that I had a responsibility as the grandson of Holocaust survivors to keep their stories alive.

While Hunters is a dramatic narrative series, with largely fictional characters, it is inspired by true events. But it is not documentary. And it was never purported to be. In creating this series it was most important for me to consider what I believe to be the ultimate question and challenge of telling a story about the Holocaust: how do I do so without borrowing from a real person’s specific life or experience?

It was for this reason that I made the decision that all of the concentration camp prisoners (and survivors) in the series would be given tattoos above the number 202,499. 202,499 is the highest recorded number given to a prisoner at Auschwitz. I didn’t want one of our characters to have the number of a real victim or a real survivor, as I did not want to misrepresent a real person or borrow from a specific moment in an actual person’s life. That was the responsibility that weighed on me every night and every morning for years, while writing, producing, editing this show. It is the thing I go to sleep thinking about and the thing I wake up working to honor.

In speaking to the “chess match” scene specifically… this is a fictionalized event. 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. 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.

If the larger philosophical question is can we ever tell stories about the Holocaust that are not documentary, I believe we can and should. Hunters, like a myriad of acclaimed films on the subject, does not always adhere to literal truth in its pursuit of capturing the representational truth of the Holocaust. My decision to fictionalize was made in awareness of this debate, and this show takes the point of view that symbolic representations provide individuals access to an emotional and symbolic reality that allows us to better understand the experiences of the Shoah and provide it with meaning that can address our urgent present.

I am forever grateful to the Auschwitz Memorial for all of the important and vital work that they do, for keeping the memory of victims and survivors like my grandmother, Sara Weil, alive. 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.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: