The Auschwitz Memorial criticized Amazon Prime on Sunday for a new television series that shows a fictional human chess game at a concentration camp, days after Holocaust educators called on Amazon to stop allowing the sale of Nazi propaganda on its platform.
The series, “Hunters,” stars Al Pacino and tells the story of Nazi hunters in New York City in 1977. Amazon said it was inspired by true events.
But those seeking to educate the public about the Holocaust said the artistic license taken by the show with the chess scene, which depicts the killing of concentration camp prisoners one by one as chess pieces are removed from the board, was dangerous.
“Auschwitz was full of horrible pain & suffering documented in the accounts of survivors,” the Auschwitz-Birkenau Memorial and Museum said on Twitter. “Inventing a fake game of human chess for @huntersonprime is not only dangerous foolishness & caricature. It also welcomes future deniers. We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.”
David Weil, the creator and executive producer of “Hunters,” said in a statement released by Amazon Studios on Sunday night that his grandmother was a survivor of Auschwitz and that he had vowed to ensure the promise of “never again” after visiting the concentration camp. He said the show wasn’t a documentary.
“In creating this series,” he said, “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?”
Mr. Weil said that he avoided using the tattoo numbers of actual prisoners in the show and that the responsibility to honor Holocaust victims constantly weighed on him during the project.
He said the human chess scene was important “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.”
Mr. Weil said he created a fictional event because he did not want to depict “specific, real acts of trauma.”
The criticism of the scene coincided with calls from the memorial and other Holocaust awareness groups for Amazon to step selling Nazi propaganda, rekindling a debate over what should be sold through the world’s biggest digital marketplace.
Rabbi Marvin Hier, the founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, an organization named after a concentration camp survivor who spent his life documenting the atrocities of the Holocaust and “hunting” Nazis to bring them to justice, said the show didn’t need to rely on dramatization.
“Why invent something?” Rabbi Hier said Sunday night. “Just tell what occurred. Any writer would have so much to tell. I’m surprised that they had to create something that did not occur.”
Rabbi Hier said there were numerous examples of sadistic games at concentration camps, including one in which teenagers were lined up on Yom Kippur and condemned to death if they were not taller than a stick planted in the ground.
“Many of these young teenagers had to stand on their toes and tried to fake it,” Rabbi Hier said. “We can’t imagine this. Most of the world today would say, ‘This has got to be all fiction.’ It’s impossible to believe that human beings are capable of such depravity.”
It’s been 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz, a Nazi concentration camp in German-occupied Poland. Over one million men, women and children, mostly Jews, were killed at the concentration camp during the Holocaust.
On Friday, the Holocaust Educational Trust, which trains students and teachers across Britain, posted a letter on Twitter calling on Amazon U.K. to stop selling books by Julius Streicher, the founder of the Nazi-era anti-Semitic newspaper Der Stürmer.
Karen Pollock, the trust’s chief executive, cited “The Poisonous Mushroom,” an illustrated children’s book by Streicher, published in 1938. The text, which likens Jews to the devil, was “designed to brainwash an entire generation of children that Jews were inherently evil,” she wrote in an email.
The book was used as evidence at the Nuremberg trials, during which Streicher was convicted of directing and participating in crimes against humanity. The front cover alone draws on longstanding and offensive anti-Semitic tropes, Ms. Pollock wrote in the letter. Throughout his life, Streicher was committed to advocating the annihilation of Jews. Among his final words before he was executed in 1946 were “Heil Hitler.”
The Auschwitz Memorial’s Twitter account shared Ms. Pollock’s letter, along with screen grabs of several other anti-Semitic texts by Streicher sold on Amazon. “Such books should be removed immediately,” the museum wrote.
On Friday afternoon, Amazon did not appear ready to commit to a course of action.
“As a bookseller, we are mindful of book censorship throughout history, and we do not take this lightly,” a representative said in a statement to The New York Times. “We believe that providing access to written speech is important, including books that some may find objectionable, though we take concerns from the Holocaust Educational Trust seriously and are listening to its feedback.”
This is not the first time Amazon has been urged to remove “The Poisonous Mushroom.” Last month, Sheldon Lazarus, a producer of the movie “Auschwitz: The Final Witnesses,” told The Daily Mail, “If Amazon can predict what you want to buy, then they should be able to stop this filth.”
In the past, Amazon has promptly removed some listings in response to objections. In December, it stopped selling holiday ornaments and a bottle opener displaying images of Auschwitz after the memorial called the products “disturbing and disrespectful” on social media.
But Amazon takes a different approach with books than it does with home goods. “Amazon’s Offensive Products policies apply to all products except books, music, video and DVD,” the retailer’s guidelines state.
Nonetheless, Amazon has ramped up its policing of some hate-filled texts. In recent months, it has removed several titles by George Lincoln Rockwell, the founder of the American Nazi Party. A web address for “My Awakening: A Path to Racial Understanding” by David Duke, a former leader of the Ku Klux Klan, now directs to a page featuring a picture of an Amazon employee’s dog. In July, L.G.B.T.Q. activists persuaded Amazon to stop selling “A Parent’s Guide to Preventing Homosexuality,” written by a vocal proponent of the discredited practice of using “conversion therapy” to turn gay people straight.
Some third-party booksellers that sell titles on Amazon told The Times this year that they would welcome more clarity about why some texts were prohibited and not others. They also urged the company to publish a list of prohibited books.
One argument in favor of allowing the sale of hateful texts is that they may be useful to historians and educators.
Ms. Pollock of the Holocaust Educational Trust said she did not believe that all of Streicher’s books should be destroyed. “But there’s a difference between being available at a museum/educational institution and just finding it online among toys, gifts and trivia,” she wrote in an email.
She said that Amazon had told the trust that it was investigating the matter and would get back to her in three days.
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