Al Pacino: The family stories we hear growing up shape our choices later in life and for some these personal accounts can give fruit to exciting creative expression.
Sam Mendes grandfather told him stories of World War One, resulting in the acclaimed movie 1917. Likewise, Hollywood screenwriter David Weil, has taken his grandmother’s experiences in World War Two and found in them inspiration for a new ten-part thriller.
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In August 1944 a satellite camp of the infamous Bergen-Belsen was opened at Unterlüß-Altensothrieth where Weil’s grandmother was interned. She worked in the kitchens and life was hard with starvation and hunger the normal state of affairs.
Sara Weil-Grossman earned the nickname ‘Garbage Queen’ because of the risks she took taking potato peelings from rubbish bins to feed her fellow inmates
Wiel said, ‘…. she could have been shot for it, but she risked her life so people could eat.’
The camp held approximately six-hundred female prisoners who were used to clear the local forest, work on construction projects or in the local Rheinmetall munitions factory.
In the 1930’s Hitler’s government became a significant share-holder in the company and during the war it made a major contribution to the German arsenal.
Amongst the weapons produced by the prisoners at the plant were the 8.8cm Flak and anti-tank gun and a 7.5 cm Kwk-42 (L/70) gun used in Panther tanks.
For the Luftwaffe Rheinmetall produced the 30mm MK-108, gun. The biggest munition the company built was the Karl-Gerät self-propelled siege mortar.
After the war the American government transported an estimated 1,600 Nazi munitions researchers and scientists to the USA, propelling NASA into the space age and developing nuclear weapons.
Operation Paperclip became notorious for employing former Nazis, who had used this kind of enforced labour in German munitions factories, in sensitive US government positions.
Grandma Sara’s desperate stories of survival in the Nazi camp, counterpointed by the scandals of Nazi scientists given the equivalent of an amnesty to help the USA in the Cold War against the USSR, finally led Weil to create a new ten-part series for the Amazon streaming site.
Called Hunters, Weil describes it as a love letter to his grandmother, plus he has scored the coup of enrolling the legendary talents of veteran movie icon Al Pacino to play the lead.
The story follows an elite band of Nazi ‘hunters’ in New York City in 1977 who have uncovered a conspiracy, led by some of these high-ranking Nazis, to create the Fourth Reich in America.
The group is led by Holocaust survivor Meyer Offerman (Al Pacino) dedicated to ending the sinister plot, which includes new plans for further genocide.
Pacino clearly enjoyed making the ten-part series. In a recent interview to publicise the show he said, ‘It reminded me of the old days when I was younger and I would think, “What the hell am I doing?”
It is certainly a high-octane thrill ride with Pacino’s gang made up of explosive and weapons experts, lock-pickers and so on.
The story may seem a little far fetched but there were roving Nazi-Killers after the Second World War who used a particular kind of vigilante justice to the hunt for former supporters of the Third Reich.
The story starts when a young man’s grandmother, a Holocaust survivor, is murdered. Her grandson meets Offerman at the funeral and together they begin a hunt for the old lady’s killer.
Soon the extent of the Nazi conspiracy becomes clear and their quest to thwart it begins.
David Weil is all too aware that the horrors of Belsen-Bergen are fading into the past as survivors gradually fall victim to old age and says that the opportunity to make this series has given his generation an opportunity to explore the legacy of the Holocaust and shine a light on a dark period.
His one reservation was the question, ‘If we hunt these monsters, do we risk becoming monsters ourselves?’
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Rheinmetall AG remains in business in the same location and is one of Europe’s foremost defence contractor. Its headquarters is in Dusseldorf, Germany and in 2018 it achieved sales of $3 billion. It is listed on the German MDAX Stock Exchange.