The topic of human chess is more emotional than you might think. For the most part, it is a fun, almost theatrical, presentation of the ancient game by real people dressed-up according to each chess “character.” Some see it as a mixture of chess, twister, yoga, and drama. Purists, view it as an unsavory representation of what should strictly be played in board-game form only.
Unfortunately, the topic of human chess has sparked controversy related to the Holocaust. Earlier this year, the Auschwitz Memorial issued a formal statement condemning the inclusion of “human chess” in a recent Amazon show called Hunters.
The controversy arose when Holocaust experts disagreed with the show’s assertion that Nazi’s forced Holocaust captives to play a macabre form of human chess. “Auschwitz was full of horrible pain and suffering documented in the accounts of survivors,” the Auschwitz Memorial tweeted. “Inventing a fake game of human chess . . . is not only dangerous foolishness and caricature. It also welcomes future deniers. We honor the victims by preserving factual accuracy.”
The creator of the show, David Weil, who is also the grandson of a Holocaust survivor, responded with a statement of his own:
While Hunters is a dramatic narrative
series, with largely fictional characters, it is inspired by true
events. 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?
It was for this reason that I made the
decision that all of the concentration camp prisoners (and survivors)
in the series would be given tattoos above the number 202,499. 202,499
is the highest recorded number given to a prisoner at Auschwitz. I
didn’t want one of our characters to have the number of a real victim or
a real survivor, as I did not want to misrepresent a real person or
borrow from a specific moment in an actual person’s life. That was the
responsibility that weighed on me every night and every morning for
years, while writing, producing, editing this show. It is the thing I go
to sleep thinking about and the thing I wake up working to honor.
Hopefully, this controversy will blow over so human chess can be viewed as it should be–a fun, light-hearted presentation of a classic sport. At the same time, I think the Holocaust Memorial has a point, which should be discussed. Is it okay to fictionalize any part of the Holocaust as part of a creative project (e.g. a movie)? Does it cheapen and compromise the preservation of historical facts?
Something to ponder while you play your next game of chess. . . .