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12 Movies About the Holocaust That Will Change You

Updated on November 12, 2019
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Rahul is a movie addict who can never get enough of good films. His all-time favorites are "Inception," "12 Angry Men," and "Scarface."

What Are Some Best Movies About Holocaust?

In this fast-paced world where people often think about themselves, it is easy to forget certain events in history we really should never forget, lest they recur. One of such not to be forgotten events is the senseless killing of Jews and several minorities during the Second World War. Cinema always being a tool used to educate as well as entertain, has sought to tell the many true stories about life in concentration camps and the persecution of many.

Recognizing this dark time in human history, I present a list of some of the most poignant retellings of the Holocaust and its effects on people. It's easy to get carried away and slip back into those dark times. These movies will remind you what happens when the hatred for a race goes too far. Here are 12 best movies about the Holocaust that will change you.

1. Sophie’s Choice (1982)

When speaking of compelling dramas of our time, the name of the 1982 cult classic is never far off. Based on the novel written by William Styron of the same name, the film follows the tale of Sophie (played by the incredible Meryl Streep).

Sophie has lived through and survived the concentration camps. Though, she is still mentally scarred by the ordeal. When she meets Nathan, a bubbly and effusive American Jew who seems fixated on the events surrounding the Holocaust, she begins to find the will to live again. However, their carefully created bliss begins to unravel when Sophie’s past begins to clash with Nathan’s obsessions.

Sophie’s Choice has been hailed as one of the best movies of its era. A deeply emotive and compelling performance by Meryl Streep cemented her place in history as one of the most gifted performers of all time. Don't miss out on this underrated heart-wrenching story.

2. Kapo (1960)

Directed by Gillo Pontecorvo and written with the help of Franco Solinas, this black and white war drama tells the story of Edith, a young Jewish girl, who finds herself incarcerated in a German concentration camp along with her parents and slated for death.

With the help of a benevolent Jewish doctor, who manages to switch her identity with that of a deceased woman, she narrowly escapes death. The same cannot be said of her parents, however. They are killed.

At first, she is grief-stricken. Orphaned at 14 years old and with no family, life seems bleak for Edith, but she realizes that if she is to survive recapture and this war, she must steel herself. With her renewed sense of survival, she becomes embroiled in a relationship with a German officer, which brings with it certain perks and allowances. In time, she earns the ranks of a female prisoner tasked with keeping the other female prisoners in line – a Kapo.

This Italian film is among countless movies made about the Holocaust, but it stands apart from the crowd because of its sadistically real portrayal of the grim reality. Performances from lead actors, Strasberg and Terzieff, are nothing short of spellbinding, as they suck audiences into their tale, compelling everyone to experience the plight and turmoil with them.

3. Life is Beautiful (1997)

Life is Beautiful is a heart-wrenching tale about a father who puts in the maximum amount of effort to keep his family smiling, even when the world around them begins to turn into a nightmare.

Starring Nicoletta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, and Roberto Benigni, who also directed the film, Life is Beautiful transports us to 1930s Italy where a happy-go-lucky Jewish book keeper named Guido seems to be living an idyllic life. He finds and marries the love of his life, and the two give birth to a healthy son.

The family seems to live in relative peace and tranquillity until their serene lifestyle is shattered by invading German forces. The family is quickly incarcerated and subjected to the horrors of life in a concentration camp. In an attempt to keep their spirits from breaking in the face of certain death and determined to get his family through the ordeal alive, Guido uses the power of his imagination and humor to protect his son from harm.

They navigate their waking lives in a living nightmare. For a movie with such a positive title, the story and the scenes are heartbreaking, and at times, difficult to watch. Roberto Benigni has definitely pulled off a masterstroke of artistic cinematography.

4. The Pianist (2002)

For every survivor of the Holocaust, there is always a unique yet dark perspective to life during these dark times in human history.

Based off the autobiography of Wladyslaw Szpilman titled “The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939 – 1945," The Pianist tells the true story of Wladyslaw, a Polish Jew who worked as the pianist for a local radio station until the start of World War 2.

When he and his family are forcibly placed into the Warsaw Ghetto, a bleak situation gets even bleaker when he is separated from his family. The film then tracks Wladyslaw's journey through the entirety of the war as he hides in several places, looking to avoid capture.

Director Roman Polanski and actor Adrien Brody bring this equal parts moving and terrifying true story to life once again, reminding the world of the horrors and terrors that have been committed and suffered through history.

If you're looking for some best movies about the Holocaust, The Pianist should be right up your alley.

5. Train of Life (1998)

Train of Life presents a comedic albeit still troubling version of life for Jews during World War 2. Set in a small village called home by a fair number of Jews, the often disregarded village outcast returns with news that an invasion is imminent.

In order to avoid capture, torture, and subsequent death, they must build their own deportation train that they will use to travel across the border and into the safety of Palestine. In order to keep the charade as authentic as possible, some of the Jews begin to dress up as German officers, but then a surprising and hilarious thing happens; Some of the performers begin to believe their makeshift fantasy and begin to act like their soon-to-be oppressors who are drawing ever closer.

6. Europa Europa (1990)

Quite similar to another entry on this list in the form of Kopa, Europa Europa tells the story of a young Jewish boy’s will to survive. Separated from his family at the onset of World War 2, a young boy quickly assesses the gravity of the situation he now finds himself in and pretends to be an orphaned German child.

Believing his fiction, the boy is readily accepted by the Germans and quickly becomes known as a war hero. He eventually rises through the ranks to become an officer, but the higher or more recognized he gets, the more difficult it becomes for him to keep his identity a secret.

Starring Solomon Perel along with Marco and Rene Hofschneider, Europa Europa is a film based on a true story. This film will certainly entertain but will leave you thinking long after it is done.

7. Triumph of the Spirit (1989)

This may be Willem Dafoe’s lesser-known performances, but it is by no means his least poignant. The story follows the story of a former Greek Olympic boxer who is arrested and incarcerated in the notorious Nazi Auschwitz prison camps.

Living every day in terror and fear of death, he finds that in order to keep himself, his bother, and father alive, he must provide constant entertainment for his captors by fighting other prisoners.

Director Robert M. Young does an amazing job of bringing this unique tale of survival in nightmarish conditions to life. Willem Dafoe, as always, does an expressive job of giving the character such belief and personality.

8. Fateless (2005)

Originally titled Sorstalansag, this Hungarian period film directed by Lajos Koltai is a dark coming-of-age story in one of the worst ever times and places in human history.

Forced to work in a labor camp after his father’s sudden disappearance, Gyorgy Koves (played by a phenomenal Marcel Nagy) learns what it means to become a man while trying to survive in an environment that breeds hatred and despair.

Watching the growth arc of a 14-year-old boy with no family is sure to speak volumes to any discerning moviegoer along with the beautifully shot cinematography. The film may have slipped under the radar for most movie fans, but if ever there was a Holocaust film that deserved to be mentioned as a must-see, Fateless would be right up there with the best of them.

9. Bent (1997)

The film begins and follows Max who resides in 1930 Germany as an openly gay and particularly promiscuous individual. His family has all but disowned him due to his preferences, but Max seems to live on without a care, bringing home different paramours to the chagrin of his live-in boyfriend, Rudy.

However, when Hitler takes power and orders the assassination of high-ranking officials who would otherwise have opposed him, Max and Rudy are forced to flee as one of these assassinations happens within their house. Despite the gravity of the situation, however, Max refuses a chance to escape when he finds that that would mean leaving Rudy.

The two are eventually captured and sent to a concentration camp, but not before Rudy is brutally beaten and killed for being gay on the train ride there. Realizing the seriousness of his current state, Max denies he is a homosexual and instead of being assigned the pink symbol assigned to gay prisoners, he is assigned a yellow one for Jews. At camp, however, he meets and falls in love with an openly proud gay man named Horst.

In the midst of all the inhuman chaos meted out to the Jewish community during World War 2, it is easy to forget that several minorities also faced severe and brutal treatment. Bent's unflinching portrayal of gays' treatment is hard to watch. It will definitely make you squirm in your chair.

10. Schindler’s List (1998)

It is supremely difficult to speak of best movies about the holocaust without speaking of Steven Spielberg’s epic historical period drama, Schindler’s List.

This 1998 epic follows the story of Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson), a German businessman who manages to save the lives of many Polish-Jewish refugees from the horrors of World War II by employing them in his factories.

A beautiful tale of human kindness and perseverance through difficult and seemingly insurmountable odds, Schindler’s List is often spoken of as one of the best films ever created and really brings to life the bleakness and despair.

11. Amen (2002)

It is easy to forget when speaking about the Holocaust that not every German soldier loved committing atrocities against others.

Amen tells the story of a brilliant SS officer named Kurt Gerstein whose job is primarily to devise ways to purify water systems and destroy pests. When Gerstein discovers that his purification and disease removal method that utilizes a mixture named Zyklon B, is actively being employed to exterminate Jews en masse, he is completely mortified and seeks a way to stop the madness.

In his bid to save the situation, he enlists the help of a young priest to bring the attention of the Pope to the senseless killings in hopes that something will be done. In a masterful stroke of cinema, Amen draws attention to a fact that often goes overlooked when the Holocaust is spoken of - where was the Vatican?

12. The Devil’s Arithmetic (1999)

Sometimes, it is difficult to fully comprehend the horrors of a situation unless one lives through it. This is what director Donna Deitch looks to do with the 1999 film, The Devil’s Arithmetic.

Blending the world of historical fact with fantasy, the story begins with Hannah Stern (played by Kirsten Dunst) – a young Jewish girl who lives in America, long after the ravages of World War 2. Bored and completely failing to understand and observe the ceremony of the Passover, she finds herself transported into 1942 Poland, where she is forced to endure the hellish conditions of the concentration camps.

Through the experience, Hannah rediscovers her sense of self and begins to fully appreciate the sacrifices and difficult conditions many had to face in order to make her American dream a reality.

Did I miss out on any other movies about the Holocaust? Let me know in the comments section.


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