In a few days, spring will be here. It will be a time of rejoicing for many, but it wasn’t for millions of people — men, women, and children — many years ago. With the European spring, the Nazis began annexing more and more territory and forcing Jews into their newly opened concentration camps. The Holocaust was beginning.
The Holocaust was an absolutely horrifying part of world history. While it should never be glorified in media, movies tend to help us truly comprehend what went on and why we should never repeat it. The following movies fulfill that purpose.
Angry Harvest (1985)
The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
The Counterfeiters (2007)
Divided We Fall (2000)
Son of Saul (2015)
Europa Europa (1990)
#10: Playing for Time (1980)
Written by renowned playwright Arthur Miller, Playing for Time tells the story of the female prisoners at Auschwitz who played music for their captors in return for their lives, losing respect from their fellow Jews in the process. Vanessa Redgrave and Jane Alexander play their roles so convincingly and elicit such emotion that it brings tears. The cinematography and lighting are also spot on in this movie, effectively conveying the dark, depressing mood needed. It’s a horribly dismal depiction of the humiliation and ridicule these women faced as “traitors” to their dying friends. Just another reminder of this awful time.
#9: The Grey Zone (2001)
Once again, be aware that when you are watching films about the Holocaust, you’ll probably be left feeling more than a little depressed. A Nazi doctor (Allan Corduner) is forced to work in the crematoria — basically killing his fellow Jews — placing himself in a morally grey zone. It’s a beautifully rendered film about what dreadful lengths one would go through to save one’s own hide. Harvey Keitel, David Arquette, and Steve Buscemi also costar and give admirable performances. While not a feel-good film by any means, it really gives you an understanding of what these poor people went through and what they were forced to do to save their families.
#8: Inglourious Basterds (2009)
While it may not be specifically about the Holocaust, it does show Jews killing Nazis. Brad Pitt stars with supporting performances from Eli Roth, Michael Fassbender, Christoph Waltz, and even a narration by Samuel L. Jackson (wouldn’t be Tarantino without Samuel L. Jackson). It’s violence is nothing short of over-the-top (a Tarantino trademark), but in this particular setting, it’s appropriate — and gratifying. It gives a sense of justice to the enraged viewer who wants nothing more than to give the Nazis a taste of their own medicine.
#7: Fateless (2005)
Hope you don’t mind subtitles, because some of the best Holocaust films are foreign. Fateless is a Hungarian film about a Hungarian teenager, György, who is sent to different concentration camps and learns what it means to be a man throughout it all. What really makes this film beautiful is the brilliant use of cinematography and color to indicate mood and tone. We truly feel we can understand the hatred of young György as he’s shuffled from camp to camp, watching friends and loved ones die. We are as depressed and angry as he is. It’s a deeply emotional film.
#6: Sophie’s Choice (1982)
Let’s face it: any movie with Meryl Streep is going to be Oscar-worthy. However, I wasn’t prepared for how much this movie would play with my emotions, even though I knew the plot going in. It’s a dark movie: Sophie battles PTSD from Nazi concentration camps and her Jewish, Holocaust-obsessed lover (Kevin Kline) has violent tendencies and masked mental illness. Young writer, Stingo (Peter MacNiol), who befriends the couple, narrates all of this. It’s tragically beautiful and portrays the utter hopelessness and brutality of the Holocaust.
#5: Escape from Sobibor (1987)
While this isn’t strictly a cinematic film (it’s a TV movie), it still carries the same depth and emotion as all the other films on this list. The Jews imprisoned at the Sobibor death camp faced a quandary: they needed to escape but if their attempt failed, all those who tried to escape plus an equal number of the innocent Jews would be executed. But they couldn’t kill the guards either because then they’d have been no better than their Nazi captors. It is all based on true events that happened at the Sobibor death camp during the Holocaust. While it obviously has its heavier moments, it is also quite inspiring and a testament to the human spirit. Alan Arkin stars and helps shape this movie into an educational, sobering film.
#4: The Pianist (2002)
The Pianist follows concert pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman as he struggles to survive the destruction of the Warsaw ghetto during the Holocaust. Adrien Brody delivers a compelling performance as the rich, talented pianist who loses everything — a performance he rightly won an Oscar for. The absolute devastation the Polish Jews faced is painful to watch. At one point, six people share one piece of candy that seems no bigger than my thumb. Yet, they are as grateful as could be for that small comfort. To see this depiction of people who lost so much and still had hope is astounding and a must-watch for everyone.
#3: Life is Beautiful (1997)
Who would have thought that a movie that made me giggle would also rip my heart out and stomp on it? CERTAINLY NOT ME. Roberto Benigni gives a spectacular performance in this Italian film (be aware that there are subtitles). Depicting the struggle of a father to shield his young son from the more graphic parts of the Holocaust, it is both heartwarming and heartbreaking. While it may have it’s funny moments, be aware that this film is by no means light and should not be watched on a bad day.
#2: The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
This movie portrays the violence and horror of the Holocaust through a child’s eyes, which makes it all the more horrifying. As you watch young Bruno (Asa Butterfield) interact and try to understand the Jewish boy, Shmuel (Jack Scanlon), you cringe with the knowledge of what you know is coming. It’s absolutely gut-wrenching to think that young boys who barely knew the meaning of the word “war” were caught up in this awful part of history. It’s a grim reminder of how Nazi Germany eliminated nearly an entire race merely out of hate — regardless of age, gender, or anything.
#1: Schindler’s List (1993)
What movie could top this list other than Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning film, Schindler’s List? This movie earns its place at the top of the list mainly because its historically accuracy makes the viewer almost physically ill to watch. The senseless atrocities, the coarse brutality, and the uncaring men and women who murdered so many of their fellow human beings leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth. Liam Neeson gives a spectacular performance — the best of his career. His final scenes had me fighting back tears. And Ralph Fiennes’ supporting role sends shivers down my spine.
Thanks for reading! What are your thoughts on the top 10 best Holocaust movies? Comment down below!
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