TORONTO — Canadian actor Saul Rubinek's role of a Polish Jew who hunts down Nazis in the new series "Hunters" hits close to home.
Oscar-winning "Get Out" writer-director Jordan Peele executive produced the Amazon Prime Video drama, about a group of vigilantes pursuing escaped Nazi officials who are conspiring to create a Fourth Reich in the U.S. in the late 1970s.
Rubinek plays a weapons expert and Polish-born Holocaust survivor alongside Carol Kane as his wife.
Rubinek's real-life daughter, Hannah Reid Rubinek, co-stars as the daughter of the couple who are recruited to be a part of the Nazi-hunting group by Al Pacino's Holocaust survivor character in New York.
Rubinek says he relates to the material because his own parents survived the German occupation of Poland during the Second World War and were hidden by a couple in order to survive for two and a half years.
Rubinek was born in a refugee camp in Germany and immigrated with his parents to Canada, first to Montreal and then Ottawa, in 1949.
"I auditioned for the series but it was kind of like I was born to play it," Rubinek said in a recent phone interview from Los Angeles, where he now lives. "My first language is Yiddish and the character is a Polish Jew whose first language is Yiddish and comes to America."
Rubinek also felt another profound connection to the show's look at the complexities of confronting evil.
Rubinek said when his daughter was 13, he presented a documentary he'd made about his parents' experience, titled "So Many Miracles," to her classroom to help the students understand the Holocaust and inspire them to investigate their own family history.
But the situation became "particularly difficult" when they found out that one of Hannah's classmates was the great-granddaughter of someone in the Nazi Party's SS organization.
"That was to the courage of that classmate's mother, who was willing to open up and find out about her own grandfather and to share it," Rubinek said.
"So when showing the documentary, there was my daughter, a granddaughter of victims, and the great-granddaughter of a perpetrator, who were essentially holding hands watching this film. And that then comes to roost here in this series.
"Because this is a series about the consequences of that kind of horror, both from the point of view of people who want to create a new world order and their own misguided and fanatical idealism, and also from the people who want revenge for what happened in the past — and find that there are profound ramifications for using violence as a way to justify their revenge. So, you look into the abyss, with the risk that the abyss looks back at you."
David Weil, whose grandmother survived the Holocaust, created the series.
The show combines scenes of horrific violence, both contemporary in nature and through flashbacks to the Holocaust, along with dark humour and comic book-style touches.
The museum of the Nazi German Auschwitz death camp has expressed dismay over a scene that shows a murderous game of human chess being played there, insisting that no such thing took place at the camp.
In last week's interview, Rubinek said he hadn't yet watched the series but he'd read it all and felt it was "very provocative" and "bound to offend all kinds of people."
And he was in support of its "multifaceted storytelling techniques that use all the tools in their toolbox to tell the story in an entertaining and a profound way."
"There are a lot of people who are Holocaust deniers out there, and also we're living in a world where anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-otherness has become the norm," Rubinek said.
"We're in a world of increasingly right-wing nationalistic governments that tend to divide people and create a hostile environment for people that don't think or look like you.
"So, a show like this that deals with trying to stop a Fourth Reich — which has its own racial purity designs on their idea of a better world — going all over the world as a television series is bound to do some good, especially since it's not simplistic and the bad guys are not just monsters. If they were just monsters, they would be easy to explain. They're not, they're human beings. And the people that are after them are human beings and they have to pay consequences for how they go after them."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 25, 2020.
Victoria Ahearn, The Canadian Press