The museum of the Nazi German Auschwitz death camp is objecting to a scene in a new Amazon TV series that shows a murderous game of human chess being played there, insisting that no such thing took place at the camp.
The museumand memorial that guard the Auschwitz-Birkenau site in southern Poland, its historic facts and the memory of the victims tweeted about the scene in Amazon’s series “Hunters.” It said inventing fake scenes is “dangerous foolishness and caricature,” encourages Holocaust deniers and is disrespectful of the camp’s some 1.1 million victims, including women and children.
The series’ creator, David Weil stressed in a statement it was not a documentary but a narrative with largely fictional characters. As a grandson of Holocaust survivors, Weil said he was careful not to “misrepresent a real person or borrow from a specific moment in an actual person’s life.”
Most of the victims were Jews, but there were also Poles, Roma, Russian prisoners of war and others.They died in the camp’s gas chambers or from starvation, disease and forced labor, or shot by the guards.
Museum spokesman Pawel Sawicki said Monday that authors and artists have a special obligation to tell the truth about Auschwitz, and that the “Hunters” authors did not contact the museum for facts.
“If anyone wants to show human tragedy in Auschwitz it is enough to reach for the thousands of sources (survivors’ testimonies) that are deeply shocking, but creating fiction that distorts the history of this real place is disrespectful of the people who suffered here,” Sawicki told The Associated Press.
He said the museum is always willing to provide factual advice to anyone studying or working on Auschwitz history. More than 2 million people a year visit the site with its historic barracks, the ruins of the gas chambers and a monument to the victims.
“Hunters” is about a postwar hunt in New York for Nazi war criminals. It includes a scene where Auschwitz inmates are figures in a chess game and are killed when they are taken off the chessboard.
“This is false. There was no such thing,” Sawicki said.
Weil, who is also the “Hunters” executive producer, said he used this “fictionalized event” to showcase the “most extreme … sadism and violence that the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews and other victims.”
In his statement he thanked the Auschwitz Memorial for “keeping the memory of victims and survivors like my grandmother, Sara Weil, alive,” and expressed hope for a further dialogue to that purpose.
In a seperate statement given to ET Canada, David Weil, Creator and Executive Producer of “Hunters” says, “Years ago I visited Auschwitz and I saw the gates my grandmother was forced to enter decades earlier and the barracks she was forced to live in as a prisoner. I saw vestiges of the nightmarish world she had survived. It was an experience that forever altered the course of my life. It was the moment consecrated in time and memory that I sought to make good on doing my part – however big or however small – to ensure the promise of ‘Never Again.’ I believed then – as I do now – that I had a responsibility as the grandson of Holocaust survivors to keep their stories alive.
While Hunters is a dramatic narrative series, with largely fictional characters, it is inspired by true events. But it is not documentary. And it was never purported to be. In creating this series it was most important for me to consider what I believe to be the ultimate question and challenge of telling a story about the Holocaust: how do I do so without borrowing from a real person’s specific life or experience?
It was for this reason that I made the decision that all of the concentration camp prisoners (and survivors) in the series would be given tattoos above the number 202,499. 202,499 is the highest recorded number given to a prisoner at Auschwitz. I didn’t want one of our characters to have the number of a real victim or a real survivor, as I did not want to misrepresent a real person or borrow from a specific moment in an actual person’s life. That was the responsibility that weighed on me every night and every morning for years, while writing, producing, editing this show. It is the thing I go to sleep thinking about and the thing I wake up working to honour.
In speaking to the “chess match” scene specifically… this is a fictionalized event. Why did I feel this scene was important to script and place in series? To most powerfully counteract the revisionist narrative that whitewashes Nazi perpetration, by showcasing the most extreme – and representationally truthful – sadism and violence that the Nazis perpetrated against the Jews and other victims. And why did I feel the need to create a fictional event when there were so many real horrors that existed? After all, it is true that Nazis perpetrated widespread and extreme acts of sadism and torture – and even incidents of cruel “games” – against their victims. I simply did not want to depict those specific, real acts of trauma.
If the larger philosophical question is can we ever tell stories about the Holocaust that are not documentary, I believe we can and should. ‘Hunters’, like a myriad of acclaimed films on the subject, does not always adhere to literal truth in its pursuit of capturing the representational truth of the Holocaust. My decision to fictionalize was made in awareness of this debate, and this show takes the point of view that symbolic representations provide individuals access to an emotional and symbolic reality that allows us to better understand the experiences of the Shoah and provide it with meaning that can address our urgent present.
I am forever grateful to the Auschwitz Memorial for all of the important and vital work that they do, for keeping the memory of victims and survivors like my grandmother, Sara Weil, alive. I believe we are very much on the same side and working toward the same goals. And I hope we can continue a dialogue on how to achieve those goals.”
Nazi Germany operated Auschwitz-Birkenau between 1940 and 1945 when it occupied Poland. Emotional, international observances with the participation of survivors were held last month in Oswiecim to mark 75 years since the Soviet army liberated the camp.