The Best and Worst War Movies About the Holocaust

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Judgment at Nuremberg (1959)

Judgment at Nuremberg.

The Best!

It feels a bit odd to have an article about the best films of the Holocaust.  The Holocaust, after all, represents one of the darkest periods in human history.  Nonetheless, it is a subject that has been the focus of a great many films, and these films vary considerably in quality.  What follows is About War Movies pick for the very best films on this gruesome subject.  But be warned, as one might expect, almost each of the films that follow is difficult viewing.

One of the only war films to deal with the critically important trials of Nazis, the film makes legalese and court rooms thrilling.  Also, the film hues pretty closee to actual history, so it also serves as an important history lesson.

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Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

Diary of Anne Frank.

The Best!

A quality, if tame, adaptation of the diary of Anne Frank.  Good performances bring to life Anne's diary, a tragic story which has been told to millions of school children around the world.  Nonetheless, despite the mediocre production values, the underlying story of a Jewish girl and her family in hiding remains a powerful one; especially since most of us know how the story ends, which is to say unhappily.

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Sophie's Choice (1982)

Sophie's Choice.

The Best!

Sophie's Choice is a film about choices, and the consequence of our choices.  Meryl Streep, in one of the best performances of her career (and that's saying something), plays a Polish immigrant to the United States in a violent love affair with an emotionally abusive man.  Underlying the drama of Sophie's life is a dark and horrible secret:  When she was younger, she was in a concentration camp and was forced to make a choice about which one of her children would live.  Sophie made her choice and is forever forced to deal with the soul shattering consequences of such a horrible decision.  The Holocaust itself plays more of a supporting role in this film, but its presence permeates every scene.

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Shining Through (1992)

Shining Through.

The Worst!

You know how Melanie Griffith has a sort of child-like squeaky voice?  You don't?  Well, just imagine a child like squeaky voice - belonging to an actor of very limited acting range - being the film's central protagonist, and also being cast as an undercover American spy in World War II.  Also has a tepid romance.  And it's boring.  Do I need to say anything else?

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Schindler's List (1993)

Schindler's List Movie Poster.

The Best!

Prior to Spielberg's 1993 film, the holocaust, and the concentration camps they birthed, were presented in subdued tones, the violence and suffering toned down, made palatable for audiences by making them look "merely miserable."  Schindler's List was the first film to ever take off the blinders and show Auschwitz for the horror that it actually was.  Consequently, the film is not enjoyable in any traditional sense of the word, but rather an experience that must be undertaken with caution.  Ultimately, there's no better film than Schindler's List to represent the terror that was the Holocaust.  (This film also brought about a return of the World War II film.) 

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Life is Beautiful (1997)

Life is Beautiful.

The Best!

Life is Beautiful is perhaps the Holocaust genre's strangest entry:  A romantic comedy set in a concentration camp.  In the film, Benigni plays a father trying to shield his son from the horrors of the camp, by pretending that the concentration camp is all a large game, and spends large parts of the film goofing off and acting silly, much to his son's delight.  (Steven Spielberg was reportedly furious upon hearing of the film's concept.)  The film settles for a strange tone, a sort of "mystical realism" that's not quite reality (as, of course, there's no way this film could ever exist in the real world), mixing comedy with the horrors of the camp.  For inexplicable reasons that are too hard to define here, the film works:  It's a fantastic film about a father's love amidst the horrors of the Holocaust.  Who would have thought it was possible?

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Jacob the Liar (1999)

Jakob the Liar.

The Worst!

Robin Williams took a rare dramatic turn in this film (unfortunately) about the Holocaust, but the acting is wooden, the film is dull, the point is unclear, and it's excruciatingly unconvincing at times.  It takes real skill to take one of the world's most dramatic events and make it both boring.

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The Pianist (2002)


The Best!

This 2002 Roman Polanski directed film is cinema at its best:  Top notch acting, directing, production design, and a stellar script.  Using the Holocaust as its defining story element, it delves into many aspects of this horrible corner of history:  The Polish ghettoes and their subsequent "cleansing," the Polish underground, the concentration camps, and Jews in hiding.  All witnesses through the passive perspective of a Jewish violinist who spends most of the film in hiding, but is heroic nonetheless if for no other reason than his die-hard determination to survive amidst over-the-top odds.  The Pianist is my vote for the best Holocaust film of all time.

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The Reader (2008)

The Reader.

The Best!

The Reader is a meticulous character study of a a Nazi woman who served as a guard at the concentration camps in Germany.  Unable to see what she did as wrong - she was simply following orders after all - the film nonetheless shows us her humanity, by allowing the viewer to understand her fears, desperate desire for love, and shame over not being able to read.  That the film doesn't make her an easy villain, but a complex three dimensional character capable of both good and evil makes the film all the more powerful.  Also one of the best war-time love stories.

Click here for the Top Nazi War Movies of All Time.

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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas.

The Best!

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas tells the story of two children:  One, the privileged son of a commander at a Nazi concentration camp, the other, a young Jewish boy stuck inside a concentration camp.  Separated by a razor wire fence, the two young boys nonetheless strike up a friendship.  While sweet at times, with the horror of the Holocaust somewhat abbreviated through the innocent perspective of childhood, it's a temporary reprieve, as the film's ending is shattering.

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Rico, Johnny. "The Best and Worst War Movies About the Holocaust." ThoughtCo, Mar. 1, 2017, Rico, Johnny. (2017, March 1). The Best and Worst War Movies About the Holocaust. Retrieved from Rico, Johnny. "The Best and Worst War Movies About the Holocaust." ThoughtCo. (accessed November 19, 2017).