'Disrespectful and dangerous’: TV show's 'death chess' scene slammed

Al Pacino and Logan Lerman star in Amazon Prime's new Nazi-hunting series, Hunters. (Photo: Amazon)

US streaming service Amazon Prime has been slammed by the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Museum over a ‘disrespectful and dangerous’ scene in one of its new TV shows.

Starring Al Pacino, Hunters follows a group of Nazi hunters in 1970s New York as they battle to prevent the creation of a Fourth Reich.

In the first episode, a Jewish chess master who is being held captive at the infamous concentration camp is forced to play a murderous game on a life-sized board using his fellow prisoners as chess pieces.

The 'death chess' scene from Hunters. (Amazon Prime)

The Auschwitz Museum has branded the ‘fake game’ as ‘dangerous foolishness and caricature’ and noted its potential to encourage Holocaust deniers.

“Auschwitz was full of horrible pain and suffering documented in the accounts of survivors,” administrators said in a statement to Twitter.

“Inventing a fake game of human chess for @HuntersonPrime is not only dangerous foolishness and caricature. It also welcomes future deniers. We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.”

In reply to other tweets, the account went on to describe the notion of fictionalising the events of the Holocaust as “disrespectful and dangerous.”

Writer defends Hunters’ ‘death chess’

Series writer David Weil, whose grandmother was a survivor of the Nazi death camp, has defended his choice to invent the scene.

“While Hunters is a dramatic narrative series, with largely fictional characters, it is inspired by true events,” he said in a statement.

“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?

“In speaking to the 'chess match' scene specifically … this is a fictionalised 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.

The 'death chess' scene also features in Hunters' key art. Photo: Amazon Prime.
David Weil, creator/co-showrunner of the Amazon Prime Video series Hunters., defended the controversial chessboard scene. (Photo: AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

“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.”

It’s not the first time Hunters has courted controversy, with the show copping some criticism for its tone and stylised violence.

The Guardian called it “dangerously insensitive,” while the Daily Telegraph argued that turning the cruelty of the Nazis into “schlocky popcorn entertainment sets a very odd tone.”

In December last year, the Auschwitz Museum called Amazon out for listing Christmas decorations bearing the image of the Nazi concentration camp which they later removed.

Amazon has recently also come under fire for continuing to sell anti-Semitic books on its site, particularly The Jewish Question in the Classroom by Julius Streicher, a Nazi propagandist.

Additional reporting by Ben Arnold.

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