The Best Revenge: Amazon’s “Hunters”

“The best revenge is revenge” is a line that Al Pacino delivers as Meyer Offerman, leader of a band of Nazi hunters in Amazon’s Hunters. Even the character’s name suggests that he is not interested in doing anything more than “offing” Nazis he has discovered living in the United States, because no one will want to bring justice to the Nazis living among us.

The new series, which began streaming on February 21, has caused an uproar among many Jewish groups, but the most vocal was the Auschwitz-Birkenau Museum, who asked why anyone would need to make up more sadistic violence than already existed when referring to a scene involving a macabre human chess board. Auschwitz is of course justified in criticizing the show. 

Executive producer and grandson of Holocaust survivors, David Weil, pointed out that he did not want to dishonor the victims by portraying actual atrocities, real individuals or their stories. He went further in a released statement, saying that it is not a documentary, nor does it need to be. While that is true, one might still wonder why he thought using actual atrocities would dishonor the victims.

Fictionalized stories of the Holocaust have been with us in various forms over the decades since the end of World War II, and debate about representation has played a large role in critiquing these works. There is nothing wrong with pushing the boundaries of representation if you are striving for a way to reach a new audience to engage in the history, but Hunters does not feel like it has any historic goals to achieve. 

There is nothing in the six episodes I made it through to suggest there is much of a point at all. Gratuitous over the top violence and sarcastic, cringe-worthy dialogue all suggest a love of Grindhouse, an obsession with Batman comics, Star Wars, and Tarantino movies, as well as 1970s Holocaust science fiction films such as The Boys from Brazil and Marathon Man, but this series does not have any of the psychological drama that the later films had, nor does it do Jewish revenge as well as Tarantino’s 2009 Inglourious Basterds.

Hunters suffers because it cannot seem to focus on any one theme. Set in 1977 New York City, there are suggestions of the city’s woes and the hunt for Son of Sam. There are cultural references that are not specific to the time period, and then there are the flashbacks to the Holocaust. A little more editing may have helped, but it would not resolve the main problems.

The eye for an eye vengeance delivered by Offerman and his band of misfits (not so super heroes) caricatures against the standard Hollywood tropes of Nazis do not let us live out a revenge fantasy; instead, it places the victims and the perpetrators on somewhat equal footing. The justification for the torture and murder of the Nazis by Offerman is that they were worse. Measuring atrocities does not make for justification of murder; watching the torture scenes did not bring any sense of vindication. Instead, it reminded me of Primo Levi’s writing about the cruelty of National Socialism in The Grey Zone, in which he states that the creation of the sonderkommandos at Auschwitz became “National Socialism’s most demonic crime-as it was an attempt to shift their crimes onto others-specifically the victims’ burden of guilt.” Levi writes about the SS, “We the master race, are your destroyers, but you are no better than we are; if we so wish, and we do so wish, we can destroy not only your bodies but also your souls, just as we have destroyed ours.” (2017 p.42)

In 2020, when we have the highest reported cases of antisemitism, as well as the rise in white nationalism, it seems irresponsible to have a show like Hunters. We can argue all we want that it is fiction, but sadly, there are too many people who will tune in who simply cannot distinguish truth from fiction anymore. Too many works using the language “based on true events and stories” have created an atmosphere of truism that simply does not exist.  When dealing with the Holocaust, one wonders why anyone would embellish when there is plenty of history at the ready to be used as a basis to tell stories.  

The series also does no favors for Judaism either. In fact, there is much quoting of Torah and Talmud only to reject their teachings in order to justify what the vigilantes are doing. In the beginning of the first episode, Offerman says that the best revenge is living well, which he later refutes. But in truth, the best revenge against Hitler and the Nazis and their collaborators is a life well lived, for every generation that exists is one more than the Nazis would have allowed if they had been successful, and that seems like a better story to tell.

-Jodi Elowitz, Director of Education & Engagement