Is there ever a bad time for Nazi revenge-killing cinema? Amazon apparently thinks not, and in the spirit of so many pulpy SS-killing films, Hunters grits it’s teeth, takes up a knife, and starts rooting around for Swastikas.
While the series, like so many of those pulpy predecessors, takes more than one historical liberty, one scene in particular remains true to life—referenced by date, September 5, 1941, in the show: the Pavoloch massacre.
In that scene, Jonah (Logan Lerman) reads a note handwritten by his grandmother, a survivor of the Nazi death squads that stalked Eastern Europe during the early years of the war. The letter reads, in part:
A flashback sequence then shows German soldiers executing Jonah’s family members.
The executions are no fiction and were common across Eastern Europe.
In June of 1941, German forces commenced “Operation Barbarossa,” the invasion of the Soviet Union that would last more than five months, culminate in the Battle of Moscow, and ultimately turn the tide against the Third Reich. (Like many European invaders before him, Hitler couldn’t conquer Russia; the effort would be one of the German leader’s most costly military failures.)
Geographically, however, the invasion appeared like an early success for the Reich, which captured strategic territory across easter Europe, including Ukraine. By September, and as the German advance stalled, efforts to carry out Hitler’s eradication of the Jewish people grew. These were the early years of the “Final Solution” when German soldiers would sweep across Eastern Europe and execute Jewish citizens.
At this stage, most killings were done using firearms. Some death squads would execute over 500 Jews each day.
In Pavoloch, Ukraine, on September 5, 1941, a reported 1,500 members of the Jewish community were executed.
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Did that massacre look the way it did in the show? In reality, it was likely worse. The MO of Nazi death squads was to have men, women, and children dig their own mass grave before aligning and systematically killing them. What we see in Hunters looks more like haphazard shootings in the town itself.
The soldiers in Hunters also appear to be dressed as traditional SS (Schutzstaffel) officers, Hitler’s paramilitary group. (The images of the scene itself more reminiscent of famous photographs of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising of 1943). The German soldiers who would have been carrying out the killings at Pavoloch in 1941, however, would have likely been members of the Einsatzgruppen, a designated death squad. (Though, traditional SS troops also took part in the killings.)
In a rare understatement of history, Hunters actually shields us from the more gruesome events that took place in September 1941. Sometimes history is too horrifying for even Hollywood to dream up.
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