A Brief Breakdown Of The Holocaust Dismissal Controversy Surrounding ‘Stranger Things’
Romani and Jewish fans of the show are calling for Netflix to be held accountable.
Over the past few weeks, Jewish and Roma people have called out Netflix for seemingly encouraging Holocaust dismissal through the Stranger Things brand, by encouraging fans to get ‘number tattoos’ and converting a Nazi prison into a themed hotel.
The latest series of Netflix’s hit series Stranger Things is coming under fire for filming in a Lithuanian jail where Nazis held Jewish and Roma prisoners of war. To make matters worse, the jail is being converted to a Stranger Things-themed hotel as of the start of this month.
A major plotline in the most recent series of Stranger Things, Hawkins’ ex-police chief Jim Hopper is held in a Russian internment camp. In the camp, Hopper is relentlessly beaten and tortured for information about the secret experiments that went down in Hawkins’ labs.
In reality, these sequences were not filmed in Russia but were instead filmed in Lukiškės Prison in Vilnius, Lithuania. The prison was in operation for over a century before closing down in 2019 and becoming a major location for Stranger Things 4.
The prison also has a dark history. It was notorious for its Nazi usage during World War II. The prison is one of the sites connected to the horrific Ponary Massacre in which 100,000 Jews, Rroma, and political prisoners were murdered in 1941.
Many Jewish and Roma people have since called on Netflix to apologise. A change.org petition with almost 20,000 signatures is asking for Netflix to apologise and take accountability for how the use of the prison in this way contributes to Holocaust erasure.
As the petition from Jews and Rroma Against Bigotry reads: “Not only does this mock the shared trauma of the Jewish and Rroma community, but it further desecrates the living memories of Holocaust survivors (a significant portion are alive today) and their descendants”.
This is not the first time Stranger Things and Netflix have been criticised for seemingly unwittingly encouraging anti-Jewish sentiment. The Stranger Things official Instagram page has also come under fire for encouraging fans to get tattoos of numbers on their arms like Eleven’s.
Prisoners in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Nazi occupation were branded with numbers on their arms as a means of dehumanisation. As one Twitter user wrote in their viral thread explaining how getting a tattoo like Eleven’s is disrespectful to survivors of Auschwitz, “…they no longer had a name because they weren’t deemed significant enough TO have one. they were instead referred to as a number only”. The thread continued, “obviously the tattoos make sense in the context of the show, but are not appropriate to do in real life”.
Antisemitism Is On The Rise
Antisemitism has been on the rise globally. In 2021, reports of antisemitic incidents are at their highest in the USA since the Anti-Defamation League began recording reports in 1979. Antisemitic sentiment in Australia increased over the pandemic too, particularly in Victoria. The rise of antisemitic conspiracy theories – such as those pushed by QAnon – have also been directly linked to attacks on synagogues.
It might be easy to shrug off how Stranger Things as a brand is inadvertently encouraging the dismissal of the Holocaust. One might even argue a prison that once held those the Nazis branded for extermination being repurposed into a place for people to enjoy a TV show they like is a good thing.
But there is a reason that the catch cry for International Holocaust Remembrance Day is “Never Forget”. The atrocities suffered by the Jewish, Romani and other peoples during the Holocaust should be remembered with the respect due to such horror so that it doesn’t happen again. Sites such as Lukiškės Prison should be remembered, not rebranded into fandom-themed holiday destinations.