Benefits and Detriments of Nazi Representation: ‘Hunters’

The new Amazon Prime show is not for the faint of heart.

The Premise

Jordan Peele originally joined forces with Al Pacino to create one of the best revenge stories known to TV (or so we thought). The series, “Hunters,” was supposedly a comic-book-esque tale featuring a team of mostly Jewish vigilantes who devoted their lives to hunting ex-Nazis and Holocaust war criminals. These vigilantes operated in 1970s New York, allowing them to enact ethically questionable revenge plots under the nose of the law. While often exaggerated, the show does draw from real experiences and political circumstances of 1970s America.

“Hunters” stars Logan Lermon, Al Pacino, Josh Radnor, Jerrika Hinton and other A-listers, many of whom are Jewish. And though there was some anxiety in producing a show with such a sensitive subject matter, the story was expected to be a triumphant tale of justice and due diligence. 

The Benefits 

“Hunters” has a highly controversial subject matter, but does not come without its benefits. The debut of the show came with mass awareness of the trauma, pain and suffering endured during the Holocaust. The show also emphasizes the mass injustices of the Nuremberg Trials and its minimal Nazi convictions. Especially with the recent release of media such as “Jojo Rabbit,” the show brings to light important details about the atrocities committed against Jews and other minorities that other entertainment overlooks.

The show exposes the United States efforts in welcoming ex-Third Reich members into the country with open arms, hoping to use these members as spies against the Soviet Union. The series additionally displays the deplorable use of ex-Nazis in government projects, as NASA is suspected to have done in the 1970s.

Not to mention that “Hunters” is a goldmine for Jewish representation. Logan Lerman (who plays a lead by the name of Jonah Heidelbaum) is Jewish, as is Josh Radnor (who plays another Nazi-hunter on the show). Though not all of the characters are Jewish, Jewish terminology, religion and culture runs through every aspect of the show. And, often in subtle ways. There is yiddish language and religious context intertwined in all dialogue, and synagogue scenes are a normal occurrence. There are cultural objects in the characters’ houses and they often wear Magen David necklaces. Rarely is there no token Jewish character and an absent standard of Christian culture.

Of course, it is also nice to see Nazis as obvious “bad guys,” especially when the plot includes serious and corporeal consequences for their actions. With current conservative sentiments supporting neo-Nazi efforts and political divisions running rampant, there is often controversy surrounding minorities taking violent action against harmful ideologies. But, “Hunters” normalizes anger in the face of injustice and persecution. As it should.   

The Controversy

Despite all of its attractive qualities, the production of “Hunters” does not come without concerns. Though the show does not claim to be completely non-fiction, the true historical aspects of the show and the fictional ones are often hard to distinguish. This is especially a struggle for gentile audiences that may not be so familiar with Holocaust history, despite this demographic being the most in need of Shoah education.  

In fact, the show has even been accused of misinformation so serious that it could aid Holocaust-denying rhetoric. In one scene, Nazis are seen playing a game of chess in which a Jewish prisoners are used as pawns. Every time a piece is taken, a Jewish prisoner is killed. This scene even drew the negative attention of the Auschwitz Memorial, which tweeted in response: 

As stated, depictions of Nazis playing such foolish games with Jewish victims can be seriously detrimental. The chess game may seem so ridiculous that an audience will downplay the real actions of Nazis to an unrealistic standard. Even this slight exaggeration can plant misinformation about anti-Semitic crimes into the heads of audience members—whether current or past crimes. Viewers with doubts about the Holocaust may use such foolishness to deny the genocide altogether. Additionally, Nazis are often portrayed in a sympathetic light. When hunting these war criminals, the Hunters are vicious and merciless. This puts the fictional Nazis in a very human position, where they are portrayed as real, individual people with valuable lives to lose. Whether this depiction of Nazis as humans “just like us” is realistic or not, it is compassionate and victimizing for Nazis.

In laymen’s terms, making Nazi ideology seem trivial lets them get away with it…and normalizes their ideology in today’s time. Making anti-Semites seem human allows for human sympathy to turn to sympathy for Naziism. Portraying Nazis at all is a dangerous game.

Furthermore, “Hunters” scenes can be hard to watch. Despite attracting a largely Jewish audience, the series does not sugarcoat the atrocities committed against Jews. True, a realistic picture of persecution and genocide is incredibly important in media. Still, no viewer is spared. Nazis spit offense at Jews in every episode, often mimicking anti-Semitic language Jews hear in daily life. This is anything but comfortable. The concentration camp scenes are bone-chilling and some of the violence was unexpected. I originally began watching the show to satisfy my need for justice and was not looking to witness many of the cruelties my late family faced. But again, an argument could be made for the value of accurate historical representation – and it is certainly not the first time that television or films about war have been hard to stomach.

In addition to the show’s creators, Amazon itself has been in hot water for even adding the show to the Amazon Prime Video lineup. The Auschwitz Memorial and numerous other critics have targeted the company for claiming to support the Jewish community, but still selling Nazi propoganda literature on their site. To make matters worse, Amazon rarely places warnings on such literature. In response to criticism, Amazon executives issued a statement that simply claimed a right to free speech and labeled Nazi propoganda as “objectionable”, but nothing worse. 

In Conclusion

Whatever your perspective on the controversy is, know what you’re in for before watching “Hunters.”

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