Some SPOILERS ahead
Amazon’s series Hunters is an unapologetic revenge fantasy inspired by Quentin Tarantino’s Inglorious Basterds (2010). From the gleeful torture and murder of Nazis to the unexpected detours in historical truth and even the visual style, David Weil’s story of Holocaust survivors wreaking havoc on a shadow Fourth Reich conspiracy blends QT’s film with executive producer Jordan Peele’s obsession with 70s pop culture. Unsurprisingly, Hunters has received its share of criticism.
Those of us teaching and writing in the diverse field of Holocaust Studies have mixed reactions to Hunters, a series that wavers between a sincere desire to illuminate the true horrors of the Holocaust and the enduring trauma of survivors and invented scenarios designed to move the story along. Critics rightly ask why one would need to fictionalize the Holocaust when the truth is more than enough. I think Bill Niven speaks to historians’ concerns in this piece.
Without giving away too many spoilers, Hunters uses Operation Paperclip (also called Project Paperclip) as its point of departure. You see, and this may shock you, the United States brought over hundreds (maybe thousands) of Nazis to work on military projects and the space program. Some of these scientists and engineers were bad people, even war criminals! The United States government hid these Nazis from public scrutiny, giving some fake identities and helping them assimilate into their adopted country. Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) and his small band of Holocaust survivors or other besieged minorities living in the greater New York area stumble upon this infernal program and begin assassinating the worst of the worst tormentors of Jews in the camps. It seems these Nazis were not content to live freely as Americans – they want to bring down the multicultural republic and create a Fourth Reich. When the FBI begin investigating the murders one intrepid agent, Millie Malone (Jerrica Hinton) pieces together the existence of Paperclip. Between Offerman’s hunters and Malone’s indefatigable efforts the plot is unveiled and temporarily derailed. I’ll leave the finale’s unsettling revelations for a later date.
Hunters treats Paperclip like an actual conspiracy because it both helps the plot and the writers and producers realize most Americans have never heard of it. I commend them for at least introducing the topic with the hope viewers will seek out more information. Amazon partnered with ATTN to shed light on the “real Paperclip” in a documentary meant to accompany the series. Here I am along with Douglas O’Reagan delving into the slightly less dramatic truth behind the decision to hire German specialists in a number of fields.
Poor Wernher von Braun does not fare too well in Hunters. In real life the vaunted rocket scientist died in 1977 from colon cancer; in Hunters he has certain body parts electrocuted and Offerman’s protégé Jonah Heidelbaum (Logan Lerman) shoots him in the back of the head. While I am as critical of von Braun as any serious historian with knowledge of his track record should be, he certainly didn’t deserve that! Here is more from the documentary:
Hunters probably qualifies as what Matthew Boswell calls “Holocaust impiety”, that is the use of shocking and unorthodox representation to stimulate engagement with the Holocaust. Whether Amazon did it well or not is up for debate, but I am a little more forgiving than my colleagues. If someone watching Hunters is interested enough to pick up a book and learn a little more, so be it. It was worth it.
If you want to learn more about Project Paperclip my book is out in paperback.