The Holocaust has had a huge impact of human history and has greatly inspired culture and art into the modern world. It is the goal for so many to keep the conversation about the horrors of the Holocaust on-going to educate people and prevent a similar event happening ever again, to anyone. It is extremely important to share stories of the Holocaust and one of the most effective platforms for reaching the greatest number is film and television. Film can captivate and successfully emerge the audience into an unimaginable reality whilst reminding us that it was, in fact, reality not that long ago.
In this guide, we will be looking at some films which are based on true stories of the Holocaust and world war two. We recommend giving them a watch to educate yourself on the atrocities which took place during this time, as well as to understand what it would be like to be an individual living in 1940s war-torn Europe as many films focus on the individual rather than the entire concept.
Hailed as one of the most famous and moving films depicting the Holocaust is Schindler’s List. The film follows the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German Businessman living in Krakow, Poland. He is known to have saved the lives of hundreds of mostly Polish-Jews from falling victim to the Holocaust. He achieved this by employing them in his factories during World War II and providing them with a safe space to live.
Schindler avoids getting caught out since he was actually a member of the Nazi party and maintained a good relationship with the SS guards and officials. He enlists Jewish workers in his factory because they cost less and is able to spare their lives by justifying their labour “necessary to the German war effort”. As a result, they do not get transported to extermination or labour camps.
You can actually visit Schindler’s factory in Krakow as it has been turned into a museum. The film was shot in the original location, so if you watch the film and visit, you are sure to recognise some spots.
The Pianist a story which follows the life of a Polish Jewish musician, Wladyslaw Szpilan, who is not only hailed “as the best pianist in Poland, but possibly the world.” The film follows Szpilan’s struggle to survive the ongoing destruction of the Warsaw ghetto, including deportations and work camps.
The film depicts the upheaval of the Szpilan’s family who are forced into a Ghetto and later transported to the extermination camp Treblinka. Szpilan survives and someone recognises him as a famous pianist and he is kept alive through a number of tough obstacles along the way.
The Pianist provided the director, Roman Polankski, with his first and only Oscar for Best Director. To this day, the film has a reputation of being a tear-jerking movie which perfectly depicts the harrowing human portrayal of life under the oppression of the Nazi regime.
Perhaps one of the most famous figures of World War II, Anne Frank is depicted in several films. Anne Frank was a teenage girl who lived with her family in their attic (annex) for several years, along with their neighbours, before eventually being found by the Nazis.
Frank rose to fame posthumously when her father, a Holocaust Survivor, published her personal diary under the name “A Diary of a Young Girl”.
The 2001 film follows the life of Anne and her family from 1939 to 1945; all the way from the invasion of the Netherlands by the Nazis to the return of Otto Frank (her father) following the liberation of the extermination camps by the allies.
God on Trial
God on Trial offers in interesting insight into life inside Auschwitz during World War II. The premise is that the Jewish prisoners “put God on Trial” to question his motives for allowing the Holocaust to take place at all. The Jewish prisoners charge God with abandoning his covenant with the Jewish people by letting the Nazi party carry out genocide against the Jews.
Some members work to defend God, whilst others claim to not be able to carry on their faith if God is found guilty of abandoning them. It is certainly an interesting look into the theology of post-Holocaust Judaism.
The film was based on an event which was described by Elie Wiesel in his book “The Trial of God”. Wiesel claims this trial to have actually taken place and that he personally witnessed it taking place.
Denial is the only film in this list set post-War in 2000 and focusses on the true story of the Irving vs Penguin Books Ltd case. The case surrounds Deborah E. Lipstadt who was an American Professor of Holocaust Studies and David Irving, who was a scholar of Nazi Germany.
Irving ends up suing Lipstadt for libel, on the grounds that she called him a Holocaust denier. She claims that this is exactly what he is as she highlights that he distorts facts to fulfil his vision of a falsified and overexerted Holocaust story.
It is a frustrating story which questions the very nature and existence of the Holocaust in history. Holocaust Denial is a minority and anti-Semitic movement which claims that the Holocaust never happened or was greatly exaggerated. The reason it was fabricated, according to deniers, was due to some need for Jewish political and financial gain. Irving was, of course, claiming he was not one of them, but the film highlights his motives as a historian otherwise.
The film Arek follows the true story of the life of Arek Hersh, a Polish Holocaust Survivor. Arek was taken to his first camp by the Germans at the tender age of 10 and narrowly avoided being sent to various death camps through his own integrity.
Arek published “A Detail in History”, which is memoir of his time before Nazi-occupied Poland, his life in the Ghetto, his transportation to various camps, the death march and his liberation. The film is the audio-visual representation of his book, showing his life before, after and during Nazi occupation.