These Real-Life Nazi Hunters Make Amazon’s 'Hunters' Look Tame

By now the Jordan-Peele-produced, Amazon-streaming Nazi-killing series Hunters has smeared plenty of blood across your laptop screens and seemingly across 1970s America, which, apparently, was the season for Reich killing. CIA coups in Latin America, and Nazi killing. And while that’s all well and good and cinematic, most of the story is, of course, fake. Creator of the series, David Weil, whose grandmother survived the Holocaust, noted that the series was more allegorical than historical. He wanted to capture an attitude: “to draw the parallels between the ’30s and ’40s in Europe and the ’70s in the States and especially today with the racism and anti-semitism and xenophobia . . . This show is really a question. It’s, ‘What do you do?’”

If you’re Al Pacino (playing operation leader Meyer Offerman), what you do is stab an undercover Nazi in the back of the head. Not sure how far this allegory extends, but we get the point: people are upset.

Still, while Weil has said that the stories his grandmother told him sounded like the “stuff of comic books and superheroes” (which is what the pulpy Hunters no doubt shoots and stabs for), his series isn’t without history, and there is a strong, non-allegorical thread of revenge killing that’s worth observing.

When it comes to real-life Nazi “hunter” organizations, there are two prominent groups, one state sanctioned, one not: Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency, and Nokmim (Hebrew for “avengers”), a group of Holocaust survivors led by Abba Kovner that set out to kill as many former Nazis as humanly possible.

That latter group, Nokmim, proceeded with two plans of action, one on a mass scale, the other on an individual level. The group of 50, including men and women, sought to poison the water supply of Nuremberg, Germany, killing hundreds of thousands. Kovner was arrested by the British before he could carry out the plan (many Nokmim members held reservations about killing innocents.) The group then turned to poisoning some 12,000 SS prisoners of war that the United States was holding nearby Nuremberg. (Not so innocent, was the though anyway.) To carry out the killings, Nokmim coated 3,000 loaves of bread with arsenic. It’s unclear how many died, though some put the figure close to 1,000.

On a smaller scale, Nokmim began targeting individuals. They would pose as military police, arrest, and rendition former SS officers. They would then read the men their war crimes before strangling or hanging them. Some accounts describe this taking place in a garage, where a Nokmim member would attach a noose to a beam, then to a car, and then drive away, leaving the victim swinging.

Abba Kovner
Universal History ArchiveGetty Images

These killings were not sanctioned by the state. However, one prominent organization was doing the extraditing and killing in a more public (though arguably as illegal) way: Israel’s Mossad.

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Two of the agency’s most famous operations include the 1965 assassination of Herberts Cukurs and the rendition, trial, and public execution of Adolf Eichmann. (Isser Harel, pictured in the lead, was the spymaster who tracked Eichmann in Argentina before leading the group that kidnapped him, spiriting him back to Israel for trial.)

Cukurs had been an SS officer and was responsible for the death of some 30,000 Jews. Israel wanted to orchestrate a killing that would resonate internationally, and Cukurs was the chosen target. Agents befriended Cukurs and then later shot him in the head in Uruguay before stuffing him in the back of the trunk. The agents then returned to Europe, leaving behind a note on the body: “Those Who Will Never Forget.”

Fake passports used during the extradition of Adolf Eichmann.
GALI TIBBONGetty Images

The message would be a common attitude, and Mossad has a history of extrajudicial killings to make the CIA look like a humanitarian NGO.

In 1972, the agency launched operation “Wrath of God,” an assassination campaign following the terrorist attack earlier that year at the Munich Olympics, which left 11 Israeli’s dead. Over the next several years, agents would assassinate several members of the Palestinian group “Black September,” who had carried out the Munich attack.

But in 1973 Mossad misidentified one of its targets, instead killing an innocent man in Norway.

If we’re looking for an allegory involving hunters, the 1973 botched assassination would make for a strong image—something about revenge and having to dig two graves.

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