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10 Best Holocaust Movies of All Time

Vinay Dev
Movies based on the theme of Holocaust have always been popular all over the world. Some have done very well, while others not so much. The best ones are those that are shown with true and heartfelt feelings.

Did You Know?

Steven Spielberg was not paid for directing Schindler's List. He refused to accept a salary, citing that it would be 'blood money'.
The Holocaust was one of the greatest horrors civilized humans have ever seen. In war, soldiers die, and there are subjective rational explanations for their deaths, even though there is violence and killing. The dead are called martyrs, and the survivors are called heroes. But what justifies the killing of innocents, that too based on religion and race?
The movies listed below try to put forth different perspectives of the Holocaust and the related events in front of the audience. All these movies became very popular, because they made people marvel at the depths to which human apathy can reach, and the horrors that our species is capable of committing.
Here are the top 10 movies about the Holocaust, in no particular order.

Life is Beautiful

Director: Roberto Benigni
Released: 1997
Duration: 116 minutes
Actors: Roberto Benigni, Nicolleta Braschi, Giorgio Cantarini, Giustino Durano, Horz Buchholz.
While most of the Holocaust movies are sad and bring the audiences to tears, this movie moves the audiences with laughter. And then tears, a great river of it. Roberto Benigni's masterpiece portrays the life of Guido, a very happy Jew who owns a stationery shop. He falls (literally) in love with Dora, played by his real-life wife Nicoletta Braschi.
The love story is happy and poignant, and their consummation leads to the birth of their son. Guido uses every funny antic he can think of to keep his son smiling and happy. And not only his son, but everyone around him.
The next half of the movie takes a tragic turn, where Guido's family is transported to one of the concentration camps. Guido's spirit does not waver, and he still keeps his son ignorant of the horrors around him by engaging him in invented games.
The humor can only last so much to uphold hope in the horrors of a concentration camp, and the climax breaks the audience down. The movie got mixed reviews, and some groups even condemned it for showing the Holocaust in a funny way.
But as sad and tragic as the Holocaust was, Benigni does not, even for one second, disrespect it or ignore the event in the movie, but accepts it and laughs in the face of the oncoming horrors. In that sense, the movie is seen as sickly sweet by some audiences, because they think that the human spirit cannot shine in such dark recesses of atrocities.

Schindler's List

Director: Steven Spielberg
Released: 1993
Duration: 197 minutes
Actors: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall.
The movie is the story of how Oscar Schindler, a wealthy businessman, saved thousands of Jews during the Holocaust. Schindler was a Nazi party member, and bribed top SS officers to maintain his standing in the party. He schemes to employ Jewish workers to make more profits, as they come as cheap labor.
However, after witnessing the Krakow Ghetto massacre, the incident changes him profoundly. He protests his Jewish workers doggedly, even against the evil officer Amon Goeth, who is a commandant at a concentration camp. The movie follows the real story very well, and the performances are applause-worthy.
The movie is shot in black and white to emphasize the bleakness of the times. Although no explicit gore is shown, violence is intense, and is amplified by Ralph Fiennes' portrayal of Goeth. This movie is, to date, Spielberg's masterpiece.
Schindler's List is frequently counted among the best movies ever made. It is applauded for its realism and intense scenes like the liquidation of Krakow and the shower gassing scene. The movie is brilliantly acted, written, and directed, and deserves to be watched for the pure cinematic brilliance that it shows.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

Director: Mark Herman
Released: 2008
Duration: 94 minutes
Actors: Asa Butterfield, Jack Scanlon, David Thewlis, Vera Farmiga, Amber Beattie.
The movie is shown through the perspective of a little boy named Bruno, played by Asa Butterfield. Bruno is the son of a Nazi officer. His father is in charge of a Jewish extermination camp. His wife and his two children have no knowledge of this, and live a normal life in ignorance.
Bruno, while exploring the garden in his backyard, wanders too far and comes to the fence of the camp, where he befriends a Jewish inmate of his age. Bruno thinks that the striped uniforms of the inmates are pajamas. Eventual talks with his new friend reveals the true identity of the camp, and their friendship deepens.
There is a terrible twist at the end of the movie which can wring anyone's heart in despair. The movie is based on the novel of the same name by Irish novelist John Boyne. The whole story is somehow wrapped around the climactic end which punches the audience in the guts.
Otherwise, the movie is regular fare, even through the eyes of a little kid. But it is a fresh perspective from the usual stories that deal with the Holocaust.

The Pianist

Director: Roman Polanski
Released: 2002
Duration: 150 minutes
Actors: Adrian Brody, Thomas Kretschmann, Frank Finlay, Maureen Lipman, Amelia Fox.
This movie is based on the autobiography of Wladyslaw Szpilmann. Szpilman was a pianist in Poland and was discriminated against, like all the rest of the Jews in German-occupied Poland. In the movie, he is played by Adrian Brody.
The movie recounts his life from being a successful soloist on the Polish radio to moving with his family into a ghetto, to escaping the liquidation, and finally to freedom. Directed by Roman Polanski, the movie progresses at a gentle pace with lovely background musical compositions of Chopin, Beethoven, and Mozart.
The movie follows the autobiography of Szpilmann to the point, and Brody acts superbly. He was awarded for his role, becoming the youngest male actor to receive an Academy Award. The movie is more fluid than its contemporaries. Some movies concentrate on the struggle, some on the horrors, and some others on the defiance and fightback during the Nazi era.
This movie is about the survival of a man with no extraordinary powers, except for his piano playing skills. In some scenes, you may even feel pity for the emaciated Szpilmann. But he comes through and it definitely is a story to behold.


Director: Edward Zwick
Released: 2009
Duration: 137 minutes
Actors: Daniel Craig, Liev Schrieber, Jamie Bell, George McKay, Alexa Davalos.
Produced and directed by Edward Zwick, Defiance is the story of true stamina and determination. When the Nazis started to implement the 'final solution', they started rounding all the Jews. Many in the neighboring countries got a wind of what was happening to their kind in concentration camps. Understandably, many fled.
Such a group aligns itself with the Bielski brothers in Belarus and hide in the forest. They form a partisan group and fight the Nazis from the forest. The forest gave them natural cover, and the Bielski brothers gives them direction, motivation, and leadership.
The movie describes the hardships that come with living in the forest. It also efficiently portrays deteriorating group dynamics. The hardships to keep law and order in such a group in harsh weather and in constant threat of enemy assault, hold the attention of the audience well.
The movie is based on a true story. There have been some controversies related to it, where some groups have alleged that the accounts of the Bielski brothers committing crimes has been omitted. But the movie is not about the Bielski brothers, it is about survival. Survival when everything is against you, and then building out of it.
This partisan group built a medical facility, a school, and even a jail in the forest, against all odds. Commendable.

Judgment at Nuremberg

Director: Stanley Kramer
Released: 1961
Duration: 179 minutes
Actors: Spencer Tracy, Burt Lancaster, Richard Widmark, Marlene Dietrich, Judy Garland.
The movie gives an account of the greatest trial that took place in the history of humanity. The Nuremberg trials were held to prosecute 23 high ranking Nazi officials for crimes against humanity and waging wars. Although their number-one crime was the Holocaust, they were also responsible for making policies of expansion that led to the war.
This resulted in the deaths of millions of soldiers and civilians. The movie is shown through the perspective of Judge Dan Haywood, who goes about questioning widows and other high officials to get different views about the war.
The judge wants to give an objective hearing, and with this intent, the defendants are allowed counsels. The movie is directed masterfully by Stanley Kramer, and the actors play their roles very convincingly. The best part of the movie is that, there is no hate shown towards the Nazis, and it focuses on the trials and the characters exclusively.
The movie also focuses on understanding the war, the personalities of the ones convicted, and the consciences of the people who want to prosecute with impunity. Watch it to get both the perspectives, and watch it with an open mind.

Europa Europa

Director: Agnieszka Holland
Released: 1990
Duration: 112 minutes
Actors: Marco Hofschneider, Julie Delpy, Hans Zichler, Solomon Perel, Piotr Kozolowski.
Europa Europa is the story of Solomon Perel, a Jew, who survives the Holocaust by pretending to be an ethnic German, and eventually convinces everyone that he is of Aryan descent. Out of a freakish coincidence, he comes across a German army troop and joins it as a translator, since he can speak both Russian and German fluently.
Out of another even more freakish coincidence, his presence leads to the capture of Stalin's son, and he is the dear of his German platoon. Solomon becomes a member of Hitler's youth, and follows all they have to teach, so as not to blow his cover. He also has to be very careful of not appearing in the nude to anyone, since he is a circumcised Jew.
He survives the American invasion too, and reunites with his brothers. Solomon's story is that of resourcefulness, that he survived by fooling almost everyone he encountered. This movie shows his convincing skills.
He even manages to convince the Americans that he is not a Nazi, even though he was enrolled in Hitler's youth! The movie is gripping, and the audience will like the engaging performances of the actors.

Inglourious Basterds

Director: Quentin Tarantino
Released: 2009
Duration: 152 minutes
Actors: Brad Pitt, Christopher Waltz, Michael Fassbender, Eli Roth, Diane Kruger.
While not exactly a Holocaust movie, it is set in the same time the atrocities were going on. The movie presents an alternate reality, where a crack group of killers attempt to assassinate Hitler. The movie presents a vengeful scenario, where blood and gore are copiously spilled, and the violence is unadulterated.
The movie is probably a very good release of the anger against the Nazi rule. The central character is (surprisingly) the villain―Col. Hans Landa of the SS, played extremely convincingly by Christopher Waltz. He calls himself a 'Jew hunter', and is an expert in locating hidden Jews in occupied Germany.
He crosses his path with the 'Basterds', in a dramatic final scene delivered wholly by Tarantino. As with any of his movies, the screenplay is crisp and engaging, and the audience leaves the movie satisfied with the outcome.
The hatred towards the Nazis is so intense even now (and justified), this movie got applauded at many of its screenings, even though the violence is cringe inducing. But, as they say, violence for a good (portrayed) cause is good anyway.

Sophie's Choice

Director: Alan Paluka
Released: 1982
Duration: 150 minutes
Actors: Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline, Peter McNicol, Josh Mostel, Eugene Lipinski.
The movie is a very heartbreaking story of a woman named Sophie, who migrates to the States after going through a harrowing time at a concentration camp in Nazi-occupied Germany. Sophie bonds with a novelist named Stingo. She opens up to him and tells him the difficulties she is facing with her unstable lover Landau.
Their bond becomes even deeper, and she shares her horrors of the concentration camp with him. Landau becomes the insecure lover and behaves likewise, and threatens Sophie with violence. Sophie flees with Stingo, and they share an intimate moment. Sophie feels the guilt and goes back to Landau. They attempt suicide together.
The movie shows the scars inflicted on Sophie, both by the horrors of the Holocaust and by Landau. She seeks some solace in Stingo, but in the end, she is too damaged to recover.
The story is hard hitting, showing what the Holocaust has done on a personal level, something that friendship can heal, but is still very fragile. Meryl Streep acts brilliantly, and won an Oscar for stealing the show.

Escape from Sobibor

Director: Jack Gold
Released: 1987
Duration: 120 minutes
Actors: Alan Arkin, Joanna Pacuła, Kevin Kline, Rutger Hauer, Hartmut Becker, Jack Shepherd.
This movie, made for TV, depicted one of the most successful escape attempts by Jews from an extermination camp. The escape happened from the camp located in Sobibor. Approximately 300 inmates escaped out of a total of 600, and out of them, at least 50 escaped completely. The rest were recaptured and killed.
In the process of their escape, they killed a number of German and Ukrainian guards. The event is very crucial, because the Jews that escaped relayed the atrocities that happened in such camps to the outside world. The pace in the movie is frenetic and keeps the audience on its toes.
The movie was critically acclaimed for its realistic portrayal of the events without any excessive dramatization. The movie also won a Golden Globe for Best Actor in a supporting role, received by Rutger Hauer. The producers employed Thomas Blatt as a consultant for the movie. He was a camp survivor at Sobibor.
These movies are some of the best in depicting the horrors of the Holocaust. They should be seen to be aware of the suffering caused to the Jews and the other minorities which were targeted by the Nazis.
They should be seen so that time and time again we can remember the atrocities and violence the human race is capable of inflicting on itself. They should be seen so that we can prevent anything similar from happening in the future.