Spoilers ahead for “Stranger Things” season four, volume one.
After three long years, season four, volume one of the teen sci-fi hit “Stranger Things” dropped on Netflix in May of 2022 to an almost overwhelming response. Thanks to the show’s pure 80s nostalgia, action-packed thrills and deeply talented cast (including Jews Noah Schnapp, Winona Ryder and Brett Gelman), the latest installment of “Stranger Things” has quickly become the most popular English-language TV series on Netflix of all time. At the moment, it seems that the only show “Stranger Things” is competing with is itself — the second volume of season four is dropping on Netflix on July 1 and everyone’s already talking about it.
And yet, not everyone is loving the return to Hawkins. From a Nazi prison to “Stranger Things” tattoos, some are claiming that there has been some antisemitism surrounding the latest season.
It’s a lot to parse out, so let’s get into it.
So what’s up with this Nazi prison?
There are a few different narrative threads happening in volume one, but in the beginning of the season, the viewer learns that Police Chief Jim Hopper is alive! Instead of dying at the end of season three like we were led to believe, Hopper was captured by Soviet soldiers and imprisoned in a camp in the Russian peninsula of Kamchatka. The entirety of Hopper’s story line in volume one plays out in this prison as he tries to escape and Joyce with Murray in tow try to rescue him.
According to the tourism board of Vilnius, Lithuania’s capital, some filming for the prison camp scenes took place in the country’s Lukiškės Prison.
And what’s the Jewish history of Lukiškės Prison?
Lukiškės Prison was used prior to World War II as a holding detention center for Soviet political prisoners (including Menachem Begin, who would later become the 6th Israeli Prime Minister). However, after the German invasion of Lithuania in 1941, the Nazis began using Lukiškės to imprison Jews from the Vilna Ghetto.
As Philissa Cramer wrote for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency,
“In 1941, the first people to be murdered in the Ponary massacre were 348 Jews and others who had been imprisoned at Lukiškės. Nearly 100,000 people, mostly Jewish, would be murdered at the Ponary site near Vilnius, formerly known as Vilna, in the subsequent months.”
Lukiškės stopped ceased prison operations in 2019, but it’s now a tourist site in Vilnius.
Yikes. Is there anything else?
On May 27, 2022 Lithuanian National Radio and Television (LRT) reported that Lukiškės was partnering with AirBnB to make a “Stranger Things”-themed cell available for public booking.
Part of the booking included “a guided tour through the prison and a tasting of waffles like the ones beloved by the show’s characters.”
To put that in context: For 107 Euros ($114) a night, Lukiškės Prison and AirBnB offered “Stranger Things” fans the opportunity to light-heartedly eat waffles in a place where Jews were held before they were murdered, and Soviet political prisoners were tortured and executed.
Despite Netflix heavily promoting their new “Stranger Things” experiences, where guests can immerse themselves in the show’s storyline, it’s unclear whether or not the streaming platform had any involvement in the Lukiškės AirBnB. In any case, following backlash, the outlet Primetimer reported that the prison was no longer available for booking.
And what’s the controversy about “Stranger Things” tattoos?
If you watch the show, you’re aware that main character Eleven was kidnapped as a baby and raised in Hawkins Laboratory. Before she escaped, leading to the plot of season one, she and nine other kidnapped children were experimented on and trained to use psychokinetic abilities. (However, One, the first child Hawkins Lab ever kidnapped is notably missing from the group.) In order to essentially mark the children as their property, Eleven and the other children were given a wrist tattoo.
The audience has known from the first episode of the series that Eleven has the number 011 tattooed on her wrist. However, the significance of the wrist tattoos was heightened in the last episode of volume one, when we discover that before the main villain Vecna was Vecna, he was One. The final scene of volume one is a slow panned-shot in on Vecna’s scaly wrist, where the numbers 001 are faintly displayed.
Because of this, “Stranger Things” fans are getting numbered tattoos on their wrists.
Here are a few examples:
If you know anything about the Holocaust, it’s likely you know that Jews and other prisoners were forcibly tattooed with numbers on their wrist and forearms upon arrival at Auschwitz. This was not just used to keep track of prisoners but to ultimately dehumanize them, stripping away their identity and replacing it with a string of numbers.
Further, the “Stranger Things” social media team seemed to be encouraging fans to get these arguably insensitive tattoos by sharing photos of fans’ number tattoos to their Instagram stories.
What has the response been to all of this?
For both reasons, “Stranger Things” has gotten a lot of heat on social media in the last weeks. Responses have ranged from pure condemnation to Holocaust education. Here are some of them:
(Please note a trigger warning for the first two TikTok videos, which include images of Holocaust tattoos and photographs from concentration camps.)
i think we moved on a little too quickly from the fact that stranger things filmed at a former nazi prison and is now turning said prison into a themed hotel
— 💫 j u n o ! ⚢ ∞ 💙💛 (📌toh art) (@28_cardz) June 22, 2022
@daniellesilverstone Reply to @dem0nic0n #greenscreen gr8 #strangerthings #st #st4 #strangerthings4 #jew #jewish #jewishrepresentation #jewishhistory ♬ original sound – (((Danielle 🐵✡️🧚🏼♀️✨)))
a little fucked up that people are still watching it and posting ab it when they literally turned a nazi prison where jewish people were murdered into a stranger things themed hotel https://t.co/XhqXhAKTeC
— scruffy ✡ (@scruffysummers) June 27, 2022
@glamorouslyeleven would you like to have a tattoo that represents dehumanizing innocent people and taking away their human rights? yeah, me neither. #fyp #strangerthingstattoo #011 #011tattoo #holocaust #humanrights #holocausttattoo ♬ nobody – <3
i love stranger things, i just hate what they’re doing. the number tattoos, the prison camp, the airbnb partnership. it’s all fucked.
— bee ∞ he/they (@be3bles) June 24, 2022
that tattoo shit from Stranger Things is…wildly inappropriate and in very poor taste in my opinion, it mimics the labels they branded Jewish people and others during the holocaust pic.twitter.com/DLFpsYmSwI
— 🧃5FT🧃❤️personal work❤️ (@imonly5feet) May 31, 2022
@cristinascornerr #stitch with @pentecos.tal #fyp #jewishtiktok #queerjew #antisemitism #strangerthings #strangerthings4 #holocaust #viral ♬ original sound – Aspiring sex therapist ✡︎
heres an informational thread on why getting a tattoo like this is really bad and the history behind it
tw// talking about the holocaust so mentions of violent things and genocide and just hatred and bigotry in general pic.twitter.com/YvJESTV3XL
— emily • TOMORROW (@sapphicsvoid) May 31, 2022
@cristinascornerr $114 a night! And absolutely no info on what this prison was and symbolized less than a hundred years ago #fy #jewish #fyp #antisemitism #queerjew #holocausthistory #rromani #holocaust #rroma #romanitiktok #strangerthings #netflix ♬ Cartoon Eye Blinking Sound – Anna
Has Netflix or “Stranger Things” responded to these criticisms?
At time of publication: No, they have not.
So… Is “Stranger Things” antisemitic?
Most of the time, the line between what is antisemitism and what is not antisemitism is very easy to discern. This, however, is a situation with some more nuance.
Netflix’s decision to film at a historic prison where genocide and other atrocities occurred, the decision on behalf of the prison, AirBnB and Vilnius’ tourist board to market a cell in Lukiškės as a pop culture experience, the decision of fans to get numbers tattooed on their arm and the decision of the “Stranger Things” Instagram account to encourage that doesn’t necessarily propagate hatred against Jews. However, in not responding to these criticisms, they do downplay the historical significance of the Holocaust and, some would argue, even capitalize on it — which is, you guessed it, antisemitic.
Does that mean I shouldn’t watch “Stranger Things” anymore?
Unfortunately, I cannot answer that for you. However, I don’t think watching “Stranger Things” is in and of itself antisemitic, especially if you let this article inform your decision!