A shot of two of the children’s tattoos in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”
A shot of two of the children’s tattoos in the Netflix series “Stranger Things.”

‘Stranger Things’ fans deny their tattoos evoke the Holocaust — but it’s a growing trend.

When you think of numbers tattooed on wrists, you probably think of Auschwitz and Holocaust survivors with numbers inked on their forearms. But for some fans of “Stranger Things,” Netflix’s cult favorite horror show, they think of Hawkins, Indiana, and its superpowered heroine, Eleven. And they’re getting their own wrists tattooed with 011 in her honor.

“Stranger Things” has always played with Nazi themes; there are experiments performed on numbered children with shaved heads, held captive in a lab, evoking Dr. Mengele as much as MK Ultra. While the show’s creators, the Duffer Brothers, haven’t directly mentioned the Holocaust, the references seem obvious enough — and the pair draws heavily from directors such as Steven Spielberg.

But, apparently, the fans only picked up on the shallowest of meanings behind the tattoos — that it’s a special marking for children with superpowers — and decided to prove their fandom mettle by marking themselves in the same way. The show has even reposted these tattoos to its official Instagram account. And fans seem confused by those who have criticized the choice; numerous posts deny any similarity between the numbered wrist tattoos and the Auschwitz prisoner numbers tattooed on forearms.

“The tattoos look vastly different from the ones in the Holocaust, those were on top of the arm, with a different font, while the ones in ST [Stranger Things] are smaller, and go on the wrist. I just think people are trying to connect dots that aren’t there,” wrote one commenter on the “Stranger Things” subreddit.

“There is no connection to the Holocaust in the show so there isn’t any hidden meaning that could give them an argument,” said another Redditor. “Like what’s next, scream at a dude who has his granny’s death date on his arm because there are numbers in it?”

“The tattoos look vastly different from the ones in the Holocaust, those were on top of the arm, with a different font, while the ones in ST [Stranger Things] are smaller, and go on the wrist. I just think people are trying to connect dots that aren’t there,” wrote one commenter on the “Stranger Things” subreddit.

“There is no connection to the Holocaust in the show so there isn’t any hidden meaning that could give them an argument,” said another Redditor. “Like what’s next, scream at a dude who has his granny’s death date on his arm because there are numbers in it?”


RELATED: Your tattoo was forced on you at Auschwitz. Mine honors your memory.


Admittedly, while the Holocaust is the most famous example of prisoner tattoos and numbers, it is certainly not the only one. In antiquity, tattoos, often with the name of the Roman emperor, were inked onto prisoners’ foreheads as a sign of punishment and dehumanization. And inmates have been assigned numbers to help track them for centuries, up to today.

And “Stranger Things” is not the first fictional work to recreate the practice. In “Les Miserables,” Jean Valjean is known by his prisoner number, 24601, and in “Squid Game,” the participants in a sadistic murder game are identified by the numbers on their uniforms.

But most fictional worlds avoid tattooing those identifiers on the forearms of their characters, probably to avoid the overt Holocaust association; “Stranger Things” has made no such effort. Changing the font or size of the numbers, or shifting their location by a matter of centimeters, is not sufficient to eradicate the relationship to concentration camps. (The Auschwitz numbers, which were tattooed by hand, also varied in size, writing style and placement.)

Fans unwilling to acknowledge the Holocaust resonance are paving the way for specious arguments — would a swastika not symbolize the Nazi regime if it was green? As antisemitism and white nationalism rise, will people deny the historical parallels because we’re American, not German, and the propaganda is spread using computers instead of physical posters?

Unfortunately, this mindset is becoming increasingly common; people argued that “Squid Game” was not a critique of capitalism because the show never mentioned the word, despite the fact that the show was about people playing a murder game for rich people’s entertainment because they had no other hope of survival. “Don’t Look Up” was one of the most heavy-handed movies I’ve ever seen, yet people missed its warning about climate change because it did not mention the term; critics even complained that its messaging was ineffective because it was too subtle, not because it was too didactic.

Mira Fox
Mira Fox

Mira Fox is a reporter at the Forward. Get in touch at [email protected] or on Twitter @miraefox.

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