The Netflix drama series “Hunters” has again shone a spotlight on the Holocaust and the Nazi crimes against the Jewish people. The show depicts a harrowing quest to eliminate the remains of Hitler’s regime. But today in Israel the Nazis and what they did is dealt with through remembrance (this year Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day falls on April 18) and looking forward. “Jewish wisdom teaches that the best revenge is to live well,” a Holocaust survivor in the show tells a traumatized Jewish boy who just witnessed his grandmother being murdered by a mysterious figure.
That’s right, after the attempted extermination of the Jewish people in World War II, Israel is trying to enjoy life.
Later in the series it is said that “the best revenge is to take revenge”. Set in 1970s New York, the dark conspiracy thriller produced by Academy Award winner Jordan Peele sends a motley crew of hunters on a bloody campaign against former high-ranking Nazis hiding in South America, where they plan to establish a Fourth Reich. Hollywood star and Oscar winner Al Pacino embodies the leader of the “Hunters” named Meyer Offermann in the ten-part series. Bringing the Holocaust back into the consciousness of younger generations is not easy. This is a very complex challenge when it comes to addressing an indifferent audience who have forgotten the commandment to preserve the memory of such critical events and times.
In Israel and among the Jewish people, life and existence revolves around memory. Who are we? Why are we being followed? Why does antisemitism persist? And what gives us the right to live in the biblical Promised Land? The modern Jewish state of Israel was reborn from the ashes of the Holocaust. The people of Israel will not forget what the Nazis did. It ranks up there with the destruction of the Temple by the Romans and the biblical slavery in Egypt. Memory is part of Jewish DNA. Thus Israel has not forgotten its God and for this reason the people of Israel have returned to their biblical homeland after almost 2,000 years of exile.
In Israel we say, “We survived Pharaoh and Hitler and, with God’s help and grace, we will survive the rest of our enemies.” In the 1970s there were repeated rumors that Adolf Hitler was hiding with his Nazi colleagues in a South American country. And this is what makes the series “Hunters” so exciting. When Jews kill Nazis, that’s even more surreal.
The series was immediately controversial: Series creator David Weil, the grandson of Holocaust survivors, had to defend his series to the Auschwitz Memorial, which sharply criticized “Hunters” for, among other things, depicting a human chess game in Auschwitz that never took place. Despite all of this, “Hunters” had some basis in reality. There were actually a handful of Jewish Nazi hunters active across America at the time. Best known is Simon Wiesenthal (played by Judd Hirsch in the series), who managed to bring several prominent Nazis to justice. But Wiesenthal has repeatedly emphasized that Jews are not like Nazis, and thus must bring the perpetrators to justice rather than murder them.
The end of season one hinted that things were about to go seriously off the rails when it was revealed that the real Hitler and Eva Braun are happily alive and hiding in Argentina – seemingly confirming decades of conspiracy theories about the Nazi leader’s escape from his Berlin bunker in 1945. In 2015-2018, the History Channel aired the television series “Hunting Hitler,” which is based on the premise that that the Nazi leader escaped from the Führerbunker in Berlin at the end of World War II. The series came about after the release of FBI documents investigating whether Hitler might have escaped his presumed fate in Berlin, where it is widely believed he died in 1945. The series explores how he escaped, where he might have gone, and if he was planning a Fourth Reich.
Of course, there were Nazis who successfully escaped persecution at Nuremberg by fleeing to South America, and “Hunters” builds its Hitler narrative on the framework of their real-life stories. The most notorious case is Adolf Eichmann, head of the department for Jewish and eviction affairs, who was responsible for the entire organization of the deportation of Jews from Germany and the occupied European countries. He hid in Argentina until Mossad agents tracked his whereabouts and kidnapped him as part of Operation Finale in 1960 to stand trial in Jerusalem.
Throughout its 3,500-year history, the Jewish people have suffered from foreign peoples who have repeatedly wanted to exterminate them. There is no other people that has gone through as much as the Jewish people. Because of this, the Jewish people keep coming up with compelling stories and movie series like “Hunters” that don’t necessarily reflect reality, but remind non-Jews of what the Jewish people went through. This is not Jewish science fiction, but an almost-true story designed to preserve Israel’s past in people’s memories. And this works best in TV series via Netflix, Amazon or other channels. In Israel, every Shabbat night, when we recite the Kiddush, we remember how God delivered us from the hands of Pharaoh and Egypt.
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