What Was Operation Paperclip? New Amazon Series 'Hunters' Is Rooted in U.S. Government's Secret Project

Hunters is on the fast track to becoming one of Amazon's most-talked about prestige series due to an intriguing mixture of violence, history and dark comedy. Created by David Weil and produced by Jordan Peele, the series starring Al Pacino and Logan Lerman follows a group of Nazi hunters in 1970s America as they aim to eradicate still-active members of the Third Reich.

The series debuted on Amazon Prime Friday. While much of Hunters is loaded with creative liberties, there are some aspects of real American history—and the government's hand in bringing Nazis to America—in the series.

WARNING: Spoilers ahead!

The first episode of Hunters opens in 1977 at a family barbecue. Quickly, it all goes wrong when a woman shrieks for help. She seems to have recognized a man known as "the Butcher," who is living the American dream with a wife, kids and successful job. With a scenic lake as a backdrop, the backyard party becomes a murder spree for the Butcher, who is quickly revealed to be a Nazi hiding his real identity behind a facade of American culture.

This is where the storyline begins. Both Jewish citizens who fled Germany after World War II and Nazi war criminals are now living in America. An underground war develops between the remnants of the Third Reich and a group of Nazi hunters who swear to kill members of Hitler's former regime before a Fourth Reich is born.

The series combines dark comedy with a question of morality: is tracking down and killing history's most notorious, brutal villains a victory, or just as heinous?

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"Hunters" is Amazon's latest series, and focuses on Nazi hunters in America. Christopher Saunders / Amazon Studios

As unbelievable as Hunters may sound—and its character arcs are indeed fictional—many German Nazis did find themselves in the United States after World War II. Their presence in America was the result of a once-secret program, dubbed Operation Paperclip, led by the Joint Intelligence Objectives Agency. It began following the end of the war, according to Annie Jacobsen, author of the 2014 book Operation Paperclip: The Secret Intelligence Program that Brought Nazi Scientists to America. The operation was based on the idea that Russian intelligence might employ Nazi scientists in the post-World War II era.

In an attempt to beat Russia, President Harry S. Truman approved the operation that would "ensure such coveted information did not fall into the hands of the Soviet Union," reported the History Channel. About 1,600 Nazi-linked scientists were believed to have actively worked in America during the Cold War. (Around 2,200 Nazi-connected scientists also worked for the Soviets, according to Inverse.)

That belief about Nazi scientists factors into the first episode of Hunters. An FBI agent, played by Jerrika Hinton, begins to examine the death of a NASA scientist, who was murdered by deadly gas in her shower. By the episode's end, it's revealed that the murdered scientist had a connection to Hitler—but how she got to America is not immediately disclosed.

(Even though some Nazis escaped to the United States after World War II, it was far from the first place most chose to go. Instead, many Nazis fled to South America—particularly Argentina—because the country took a neutral position during the war. Approximately 9,000 Nazis made their way into South America for sanctuary, according to the History Channel.)

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Jerrika Hinton plays an FBI agent in "Hunters." Christopher Saunders / Amazon Studios

In reality, Operation Paperclip did not produce any sort of revival of Nazi tactics or a burbling Fourth Reich, according to Inverse. Instead, it led to scientific advancements that put the United States ahead of Russia in the Cold War. One famed German rocket scientist, Wernher von Braun, spearheaded the development of Saturn V, the spacecraft that allowed the Apollo 11 astronauts to land on the moon, according to PBS.

The main inspiration for Hunters came from Weil's own childhood and family history, according to a conversation he had with The Telegraph. He spoke fondly of his grandmother Sarah Weil, who was imprisoned in Auschwitz-Birkenau and Bergen-Belsen concentration camps. There, she snuck potato scraps to other prisoners.

In the first episode of Hunters, the emotional focus is the relationship between Lerman's character, Jonah, and his grandmother, who's murdered in her own home after surviving life in a concentration camp. Jonah's grief and desire for vengeance lead the young adult down a dangerous path that gets him mixed up with Pacino's character and his gang of specialized oddballs, who are dedicated to exacting revenge on the war criminals.

In a heartfelt letter shared with the press, as obtained by Inverse, Weil explained his grandmother's strength: "When I was little, my grandmother, ever the hero, realized that her story was a weapon, a see, and—with a sense of duty—she needed to tell it. At the time, her stories felt like the stuff of comic books and superheroes. Grand battles between good and evil. And that's become the lens through which I saw the world. A world of heroes and villains, colored by injustice and darkness, but a world where light and hope were possible."