My family and I have been watching the Amazon Prime series Hunters. In fact, the series is drawn a lot of conversations and debates not only around our dinner table but across the nation. The ten episodes of season one follow a group of Nazi Hunters based in Brooklyn, New York during 1977. This Quentin Tarantino-esque, hodge-podge collection of revenge seeking hunters pursue Nazis brought to the US after WWII while also thwarting the establishment of a fourth reich. Creator David Weil and producer Jordan Peele have said the series is inspired by true events.
Where the show has taken many liberties to fictionalize elements of history in the 1970s, there are some key aspects of the series that are grounded in truth. In a recent article about Hunters in Esquire Magazine stated, “Some people said that it was basically fine as all TV and film modifies reality to some extent.” This is a worthy discussion in our classrooms when teaching history and historical fiction. The Auschwitz Memorial felt that some of the fictional accounts presented in the series were demeaning to survivors and disrespectful of history. When we read or see historical fictionalized account how does it shape our understanding of the past? Does it perpetuate revisionist history? If so, how do we combat that?
Were there Nazi’s who escaped Germany after World War II? Yes, many fled to South America. Most notorious was Adolf Eichmann, the Nazi SS lieutenant colonel who masterminded the transport of European Jews to concentration camps who was hiding out in Argentina until the Israeli Mossad captured him and brought him back to Israel for trial in 1961.
And there were Nazis who also made their way to the United States. In November 2010 The New York Times reported, “A secret history of the United States government’s Nazi-hunting operation concludes that American intelligence officials created a “safe haven” in the United States for Nazis and their collaborators after World War II, and it details decades of clashes, often hidden, with other nations over war criminals here and abroad.” As World War II ended and the Cold War between the USA and the Soviet Union began, both countries seize German scientists for technology advancements, as spies, and science. The first episode of The Hunters refers to the Nazi scientists working at NASA. A Newsweek article states, “About 1,600 Nazi-linked scientists were believed to have actively worked in America during the Cold War. ”
Referred to Operation Paperclip in real life and in the show, The CIA states on its website, “Henry Wallace, former vice president and secretary of commerce, believed the scientists’ ideas could launch new civilian industries and produce jobs. Indeed, German scientists developed synthetic rubber (used in automobile tires), non-running hosiery, the ear thermometer, electromagnetic tape, and miniaturized electrical components, to name a few.”
German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, spearheaded the development of Saturn V, the spacecraft that allowed the Apollo 11 astronauts to land on the moon, according to PBS. “During the Ford administration, von Braun was almost awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom—until one of Ford’s senior advisors, David Gergen, objected to his Nazi past.”
The Hunters includes the 19 year old protagonist, Jonah (played by Percy Jackson actor), Logan Lerman, driven to find the person who murdered his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor. Jonah’s grandmother raised him and his grief and desire for vengeance lead down a dangerous path that gets him mixed up with Al Pacino’s character and his gang of Nazi Hunters, who are dedicated to exacting bloody revenge on the war criminals.
Jonah and his grandmother were inspired by David Weil’s own relationship he had with his grandmother, a survivor of the concentration camps. Weil explains, “When I was little, my grandmother, ever the hero, realized that her story was a weapon, a see, and—with a sense of duty—she needed to tell it. At the time, her stories felt like the stuff of comic books and superheroes. Grand battles between good and evil. And that’s become the lens through which I saw the world. A world of heroes and villains, colored by injustice and darkness, but a world where light and hope were possible.”
Are there really Nazi Hunters similar to the ones we see in Hunters? Yes, but not revenge hungry-take matters into their own hands like on the show. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, a Jewish human rights organization, was set up in 1977 (the same year Hunters). As its website states, “The Simon Wiesenthal Center is a global human rights organization researching the Holocaust and hate in a historic and contemporary context. The Center confronts anti-Semitism, hate and terrorism, promotes human rights and dignity, stands with Israel, defends the safety of Jews worldwide, and teaches the lessons of the Holocaust for future generations.”
Here is a Hyperdoc created to help students learn, explore, and research more about the realities and fictions presented in this series