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Holocaust Horrors: Films About WWII

It may be known for its entertainment value, but film has its other uses, like preserving history by telling stories, factual or fictional, based on specific events.

Film has been instrumental in recording important events in world history, such as tragedies (Titanic), biographies (Erin Brockovich), and even unbelievable circumstances (127 Hours).

One of the biggest, darkest moments in world history is the Holocaust, and the stories are never ending. After the second World War, films were made to keep people from forgetting the event that caused so much pain and fear, and many of these films, while not completely accurate, became instrumental in recording history. Here are some of the most poignant films about the Holocaust.

Au Revoir Les Enfants (1987)

This extraordinary and beautiful confession is based on director Louis Malle’s experience as a child, when he befriended a Jewish boy in his religious school.

In the film, Gaspard Manesse plays a rich boy who returns to school after a holiday and is introduced to new students, one of which becomes a friend—Jean Bonnet, whose real name is Kippelstein, a Jew.

The film is about a childhood nostalgia shared from the point of view of an adult— and a story that stood up against cruelty at a time where nobody is brave enough to stand up for the oppressed.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

Conveyed from the eyes of a child, the main focus of the movie is the German family who stays on their side of the fence during the war for most of the film. The Jews are seen as dirty, stumbling people they merely pass by. Asa Butterfield’s Bruno questions why farmers wear striped pajamas, but his mother, played by Vera Farmiga, does everything she can to maintain his innocence and ignorance.

Yet the child befriends a boy from camp, whom he does not realize until much later that the child on the other side of the wire has been sentenced to death by his own father and his fellow colleagues.

This heartbreaking story of family and friendship shows what happens when the ignorance of the average German can no longer blur the image of horror in the death camps.

The Reader (2008)

This Academy Award–nominated film is as essential as Holocaust films go. The significance of the film lies on a new generation of Germans who were born after the war and were confronted with their past. An Oedipus love between a 15-year-old boy (David Kross) and a 38-year-old ticket inspector (Kate Winslet) begs to ask the question whether or not the old generation were ever remorseful of their roles in the past.

However, if there is one significant thought to get from The Reader, however, it’s that there is no way to undo what has been done, but it is never too late to change what can still be.

Life Is Beautiful (1997)

This comedy is bittersweet, but it is also one of the most beautiful films that can gut your heart out about the Holocaust. What started as a love story became dark fast, as a Jew who fell in love with a schoolteacher got deported to a concentration camp along with his son, whom he tried to protect for most of the way.

The harshness of the comedy was refreshing when it was first released. It served as a slap that emphasized on the unspeakable terror of the Holocaust. While director Roberto Benigni depicts it in a different way, historical accuracy was not so much his issue than offering a dark comic tragedy that depicts the sadness and inhumanity of this piece of history.

The Pianist (2002)

This unmerciful account of the Holocaust in Poland is result of director Roman Polanski’s personal experience as a Jew during the Second World War.

More personal than historic, Adrian Brody’s Szpilman is a passive figure hiding in the dark and moving on before the war can catch up with him—not being able to witness the terror of those who surround him. Unlike most Holocaust films that show terror, this one has lesser-known images of the era, but the uneasiness is there, only in a different sort—the horror of survival during a time when Szpilman had to turn his back on his family to continue living his life in hiding, just on the edge of the bigger picture of the war.