Spoilers for the 2017 Supergirl/Flash/Arrow/Legends of Tomorrow crossover event are present throughout this article.
Earlier this week, the DC superhero tv shows premiered their new crossover special, titled “Crisis on Earth X.” One of the four shows involved, The Flash, has had plots about alternate earths and dimensions, with the characters existing on Earth 1. The narrative states that there are 51 other earths, on each of which lives a perfect doppelgänger for every person on Earth 1. In the newest episodes, we discover that there’s a 53rd earth, known as Earth X, which is so horrific that nobody would ever choose to visit it, and that’s why we never learned about it until now. Why is it so terrible? Because on Earth X, the Nazis won World War II, and they continue to reign.
It was presented as two-hour segments on two nights, but it was close to six hours from when I began watching it to when I finished. It took me so long to get through it because I didn’t want to miss a single detail, since I know I won’t be watching it again for a long time, if I even do at all.
After the Nazis from Earth X attack Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) and Iris West (Candice Patton)’s wedding on Earth 1, a series of events takes place, that eventually leads to the capture of almost all of the main characters, most of whom are transported to Earth X. Upon their arrival, we see them in a concentration camp.
This is not an exaggeration. The camera pans over a sign reading “ARBEIT MACHT FREI.” The other prisoners are wearing striped uniforms with badges on them. And when Alex Danvers (Chyler Leigh), sister of Supergirl, says, “It’s hard to believe a place like this actually exists on any earth,” it is Martin Stein (Victor Garber) who responds with, “I wish I shared your sentiment, but in all my travels in distant times one thing that sadly remains constant is man’s ability to feel hatred for other men.” While the other characters didn’t recognize their surroundings and had to ask nearby prisoners what their badges meant, the Jewish man knew what his new reality was without a second thought. It reminded me of moments in high school history classes, when other students were shocked to learn about the horrors of the Holocaust, and I was not. Did it hurt to see the images? Of course. But they weren’t new to me. This is a common experience of Jewish students in public schools, one that is touched upon in this post.
There were many, many moments that made me feel severely uncomfortable during this viewing. And while one may argue that we’re suppose to feel that way, watching a world in which these common enemies rule all, the moments that made me feel sick and upset and angry were the ones that I imagine a non-Jewish person would have a hard time connecting to or recognizing the significance of.
There was the moment that Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickard)’s doppelgänger was introduced to the audience. On Earth 1, we know that Felicity is Jewish, with a few references scattered throughout the show over six seasons (mostly her bringing up Hanukkah in conversations around Christmastime). But with her blonde hair and relationships with non-Jewish men, it’s easy to forget. The most notable mention of her religious background is in this episode, when she says, “My grandparents didn’t survive the Holocaust so the world could be ruled by Nazis.” And while that was probably supposed to feel like a powerful moment, for me it paled in comparison to when her doppelgänger, with her messy brown hair and Jude star on her shirt, down on her knees with a gun in her face, is described as a “Jewess.” The word is said with such disdain, that I could not help but think of the note slipped under my door during my first year of college that read “Go home Jew.”
One of the Nazis on Earth X referred to a character’s upcoming demise by saying, “She’s cooked,” and I immediately associated cooking with ovens, and all the people who believe we should go back to them.
Earth X’s version of Winn Schott (Jeremy Jordan, whose mother is Jewish and whose brother went on Birthright), a general in the rebellion against the Nazis, delivers the line “There are men dying for the same causes their grandfathers did.” It felt reminiscent of all the young men and women who put on the uniforms of the IDF, serving in a war they were born into, a war they did not ask for, because apparently having a state so that a third of our religion isn’t murdered again is too much to ask.
When Barry Allen, the Flash (currently being portrayed in the DC cinematic universe by Ezra Miller, causing many fans to hope that the character be written as Jewish), squares off against Eobard Thawne (Tom Cavanagh) in the final battle, Thawne taunts his opponent, sarcastically reminding him “Barry Allen is above killing people,” after Barry spares Thawne’s life. I can say for certain I would not have done the same. I am not an intrinsically or inherently violent person, but when someone’s ideology states that I am lesser than them, that I am not allowed to live as myself, I do not see why I should allow them to go unharmed (a friend of mine actually approached me recently to have a conversation about why I support punching Nazis, and this was the general reasoning for it).
With all of this said, there is one moment that stands out as the most painful. In the middle of one of the battle scenes, Martin Stein physically goes out of his way to activate the dimensional breach that will ensure both a way home to Earth 1, and a win for his friends. In doing so, he is shot multiple times by Nazis, and later succumbs to his wounds on board the ship he and his teammates use to travel through time. At that moment I began sobbing, both out of grief for this layered, realistic, respectable character, and also out of anger. It seemed the writers thought that having all of the other characters come together to win the ultimate fight in his memory was victorious.
That is not victory. Victory is my mother and I sitting together a few times a week to watch The New Adventures of Wonder Woman and laughing at the bumbling Nazis who can never defeat her, no matter how hard they try. Victory is two trips to Israel with my blonde-haired, blue-eyed, grandchild-of-an-Auschwitz-survivor best friend, and being a bridesmaid in her wedding at a country club that looks just like all the ones that used to ban Jewish members. Victory would have been this renowned Jewish professor, played by a gay, Jewish man, returning home to his wife, daughter, and recently born first grandchild with tales of how he defeated the leaders of the Third Reich. It was a tremendous disservice to both the character and the actor, both of whom I’ve admired for countless reasons.
And yes, there were beautiful moments as well. It touched my heart to see Zari (Tala Ashe), a Muslim woman fighting to free the prisoners of Earth X, when there are many narratives that paint Jews and Muslims as mortal enemies with no exceptions. The relationship between two gay men, Leonard Snart and Ray Terrill, was authentic, positive, loving, and supportive, and both characters were portrayed by openly gay actors (Wentworth Miller and Russell Tovey, respectively). When Jefferson Jackson (Franz Drameh), the young black man who had a touching father-son relationship with Professor Stein gave a heartbreaking, tearful speech in honor of his mentor and friend, it was poignant to see something so gorgeous and genuine and necessary depicted on screen.
But none of the happy times, whether they were romantic or heartwarming or inspiring, were good enough make up for the insensitive writing that was present throughout the four hours of content. To have characters be in the 1930’s and 1940’s and fight the Nazis is one thing. To bring them back, and have them in our present, is something else entirely. They are not fictional. They are real. The horrors they committed are real. The numbers on arms and the remains of concentration camps and the Holocaust memorials are real. Treat them as such. Using Nazis as a villain in a script is taking the easy way out. Do not continue to take the easy way out in addressing their language, their actions, and their targets. Real people did not survive the Holocaust to see their lives used as cheap plots.