Amazon Prime's new conspiracy thriller set in 1970s America called Hunters that only gets crazier when you take into account that it is supposedly based on true events.
The Jordan Peele-produced series is about a group of vigilantes in New York City assembled by a Holocaust survivor, Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino), who come together to take out hundreds of senior Nazi officials are living undercover in the U.S. and trying to create a Fourth Reich. The group includes a spy, a former soldier, a lock-picker, a master of disguise, and two weapons experts. As crazy and compelling as it sounds, a trailer for Hunters claims that it happened, at least sort of.
“There comes a time where all must choose between the light and the darkness,” Pacino monologues in a voice-over in the trailer as the Talking Heads song “Psycho Killer” plays. “But when there’s great darkness in this world, perhaps a choice is made for us.”
Hunters' series creator, David Weil, has a personal connection to the story he is telling. “It was such a strange and jarring thing to hear as a kid,” Weil told Entertainment Weekly of his memories as a small child hearing his grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, tell stories about Nazis and World War II. First hearing some of these stories at the age of six, he processed them in the only way he knew how. “I saw those stories as comic book stories, stories of grand good versus grand evil, and that became the lens through which I saw the Holocaust.” His early interpretation of his grandmother’s experiences and the experiences of millions of others clearly shows through in Hunters which takes a tone similar to a superhero movie.
Nazis, some of which were implicated in serious war crimes, did move to the U.S. after World War II, and some did live in New York City in the '70s, reports NPR. In the book The Nazis Next Door, investigative reporter Eric Lichtblau writes about how thousands of Nazis were able to settle in the U.S. after World War II. Some were brought in with direct help from American intelligence officials to act as spies and informants in the Cold War against the Soviet Union.
As a reward for spying, records of their wrongdoings were frequently expunged by the CIA. "They actively cleansed their records," Lichtblau told NPR in an interview. "They realised that guys who had been involved at senior levels of Nazi atrocities would not pass through immigration at the INS — and they basically removed a lot of the Nazi material from their files."
This was all kept under wraps from the American public until 1979 when a Nazi-hunting task force was created by the Justice Department. Teams of lawyers, investigators, and historians came together to review hundreds of names of suspected Nazis and collaborators living around the country.
Not all Nazi-hunting groups were government-mandated. One group, Nakam, which is Hebrew for revenge, formed to seek vengeance after World War II ended and little, if anything, happened to punish those who were directly responsible for the deaths of 6 million Jews. Members of Nakam travelled the world hunting down Nazis and imposing vigilante justice.
There were also many non-violent Nazi hunters who devoted their lives to tracking down war criminals, building a case, and bringing them to court. One of the most well-known hunters is Simon Wiesenthal, who survived five concentration camps before spending the rest of his life seeking justice. Wiesenthal was directly involved in the prosecution of hundreds of Nazis. Though Al Pacino’s character in Hunters was rumoured to be loosely based on Wiesenthal, a member of the Simon Wiesenthal Center denied any ties to the series, reports Esquire.
The series doesn’t claim to be based on one specific group, but rather draws inspiration from a number of Nazi hunters and groups. While Nazi-hunting groups were active in the '70s, Hunters doesn’t document a singular occurrence. Specifically, they target Nazis who suck into America to infiltrate the government. In the series, they cast a wider net and tell the story of an era and a movement that is largely unknown in history.
Hunters is available to stream on Amazon Prime now