25 Films About the Holocaust

The 25 films about the Holocaust listed below can all be found in the Boniuk Library collection.

Sixty years after fleeing Vienna, Maria Altmann (Helen Mirren), an elderly Jewish woman, attempts to reclaim family possessions that were seized by the Nazis. Among them is a famous portrait of Maria’s beloved Aunt Adele: Gustave Klimt’s “Portrait of Adele Bloch-Bauer I.” With the help of young lawyer Randy Schoeberg (Ryan Reynolds), Maria embarks upon a lengthy legal battle to recover this painting and several others, but it will not be easy, for Austria considers them national treasures.

Geoffrey Rush and Emily Watson star in this modern classic that has the feel of a movie made decades before its time. Based on the the 2005 novel of the same name by Markus Zusak, the story centers around a young girl, Liesel, who finds joy in the throes of the Holocaust by stealing books and reading them to the Jewish refugee being sheltered by her adoptive parents. Its a bittersweet and touching story about adolescence in Nazi Germany, while literally narrated by “death” itself, is a moving story of finding humanity in the worst of circumstances.
In 1939, Sir Nicholas Winton personally and by his own initiative saved the lives of 669 children from Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia and brought them across Hitler’s Germany to Britain. For nearly 50 years, he kept secret how he rescued these children, not even his wife knew anything about it. The story only emerged in 1988 when the BBC broadcast a thrilling show about the first meeting of approximately one hundred of the rescued children with their secret rescuer about whom they had known nothing for 50 years. The film features dramatic reenactments and never before seen archival footage as well as interviews with a number of rescued children, Sir Nicholas Winton himself, His Holiness the Dalai Lama, Nobel Prize Laureate Elie Wiesel.

SARAH’S KEY (2010)
Sarah’s Key is one of the few entirely fictional films on the Holocaust, featuring a past and present layer of narrative. The past goes back to 1942, the year when the deportation of the French Jews began in Paris with the infamous Vel d’Hiv Roundup. Following the Strazynski family, whose daughter Sarah (Mélusine Mayance) left her little brother locked up behind a secret door at their home; the film represents the humiliating terror of this event particularly well. The present thread of the narrative follows Julia (Kristin Scott Thomas), a journalist working on a story about the Roundup.


In 1941, Nazi soldiers are slaughtering Eastern European Jews by the thousands. Three brothers, Tuvia (Daniel Craig), Zus (Liev Schreiber) and Asael (Jamie Bell), manage to escape and take refuge in the forest where they played in childhood. Seeking a way to avenge the deaths of their loved ones, the brothers turn their daily struggle for survival into a battle against the Nazis. As news of their exploits spreads, others join the fray, willing to risk their lives for even brief freedom.

In 1944, 22-year-old Hannah Senesh parachuted into Nazi-occupied Europe with a small group of Jewish volunteers from Palestine. Theirs was the only military rescue mission for Jews that occurred in WWII. Narrated by Joan Allen, the film follows the remarkable journey of this young Hungarian poet and diarist, paratrooper and resistance fighter. Told through Hannah’s letters, diaries and poems, her mother’s memoirs, and the recollections of those who knew and loved her, the film trances her life from her childhood in Budapest to her time in Palestine. Both devastating and inspiring, the film offers an intimate portrait of a singularly talented, courageous and complex girl who believed that one person could be a flame that burns brightly in even the darkest hours.

“Fugitive Pieces” is a drama directed by Jeremy Podeswa, adapted from the award-winning novel of the same name written by Anne Michaels. It tells the story of Jakob Beer, orphaned in Poland during World War II and saved by a Greek archaeologist. Starring Nina Dobrev and Stephen Dillane, this beautifully portrayed quest for liberation from haunting memories and loss and for love and redemption spans three continents and three generations. Particularly moving is the portrayal of the bond established between the boy and his rescuer, who are very different kinds of refugees, and the historical metaphors that help ground them in the world of the living.

Author and former priest James Carroll explores his past and confronts religion’s history of violence committed in the name of God. Carroll focuses on Catholic and evangelical anti-Judaism, and invokes the cross as a symbol of the long history of Christian xenophobic violence against Jews and non-Christians, from the Crusades, through the Roman Inquisition and the creation of the Jewish ghetto, to the Holocaust.

Fateless is a rare example of a Hungarian film achieving international success. In 1944, 14-year-old Hungarian Jew Gyorgy Koves quits school to look after his family when his father is deported by the Nazis to a labor camp. Shortly afterward, Gyorgy is seized during a police raid and sent to Auschwitz. Lying about his age to prevent himself from being gassed with the other children, Gyorgy learns from veteran prisoner Bandi Citrom how to survive as he is sent from one concentration camp to another.

The Ritchie Boys is the riveting, untold story of a group of young men who fled Nazi Germany and returned as soldiers in U.S. uniforms. They knew the psychology and the language of the enemy better than anyone. In Camp Ritchie, Maryland, they were trained in intelligence and psychological warfare. Determined, bright, and inventive, they fought their own kind of war; they were victors, not victims.

Hollywood’s adaptation of Wladyslaw Szpilman autobiography, “The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945,” was a critical smash that won three Oscars. The story is a tragic first-person account as to how Warsaw gradually changes at the beginning of World War II. Szpilman, who is played by a very gaunt Adrien Brody, is eventually forced into the Warsaw Ghetto and separated from his family during Operation Reinhard. The film won director Roman Polanksi his only Oscar for Best Director and also won best adapted screenplay for Ronald Harwood. “The Pianist” is a true tear-jerker that stands the test of time as a great film for its honest and harrowing human portrayal of life under oppression and serves as a brutal reminder for how quickly freedom can be taken away.

AMEN (2002)
Kurt Gerstein is an SS officer employed in the SS Hygiene Institute, planning programs for water purification and destruction of pests. He is horrified to discover that the process he has developed to fight diseases like typhus using a hydrogen cyanide mixture called Zyklon B is being used to kill Jews in the camps. In this movie, directed by Costa Gavras, Gerstein pleads to the pope to stop the genocide, with the help of a young priest, to no avail. In yet another ugly display of human behavior during this dark period of history, the movie draws a disturbing picture of the Vatican’s silence regarding the Holocaust.

Based on actual events, “The Grey Zone” is the staggeringly powerful story of the Auschwitz’s twelfth Sonderkommando — one of the thirteen consecutive “Special Squads” of Jewish prisoners placed by the Nazis in the excruciating moral dilemma of helping to kill fellow Jews in exchange for a few more months of life. From inside the working organs of the infamous Auschwitz death camp, this film asks to what terrible lengths we are willing to go to save our own lives.

This HBO film is a slow gut-punch of a movie the depicts in eerie detail the Wannsee Conference on January 20, 1942, where senior Nazi officials met to discuss and decided upon the so-called “Final Solution to the Jewish Question.” The film, which is set almost entirely around a dining room table converted into a conference table stars Kenneth Branagh, Stanley Tucci and Colin Firth. As the film develops the attendees at the meeting slowly begin to understand that their various mandates in dealing with Jews in Europe has evolved from deportation and evacuation to annihilation. Several of the meeting’s attendees hold out, but are slowly either cajoled or intimidated into supporting the plan, which they learn is already in action as gas chambers and extermination camps are already being built to annihilate an estimated 11 million Jews – including Russian Jews.

For nine months prior to World War II, in an act of mercy unequalled anywhere else before the war, Britain conducted an extraordinary rescue mission, opening its doors to over 10,000 Jewish and other children from Germany, Austria, and Czechoslovakia. These children, or Kinder (sing. Kind), as they came to be known, were taken into foster homes and hostels in Britain, expecting eventually to be reunited with their parents. The majority of them never saw their families again.

Hannah Stern, played by Kirsten Dunst, is a young Jewish girl living in the United States in the late 20th century. On Passover eve, she is bored with the Seder and at one point complains she’s tired of remembering. When she opens the door for the prophet Elijah, she finds herself in Poland in 1942. Deported to a concentration camp and in the face of near-impossible odds, Hannah calls on all her inner resources – including hope and friendship – to survive. Based on a novel by Jane Yolen, the film was directed by Donna Deitch. (Rahel Jaskow)

In late 1944, even as they faced imminent defeat, the Nazis expended enormous resources to kill or deport over 425,000 Jews during the “cleansing” of Hungary. This Oscar-winning documentary, executive produced by Steven Spielberg, focuses on the plight of five Hungarian Jews who survived imprisonment in Auschwitz. Though these survivors recount the horrors they witnessed and endured as a result of the Nazis’ “Final Solution,” their individual triumphs are a testament to hope and humanity.

On its release, “Life is Beautiful” was hotly debated for having the audacity to employ humor in its treatment of the Holocaust. But that is how its protagonist, the Jewish-Italian waiter Guido, always navigated life, so why stop when he and his son are sent to a concentration camp? Both director Roberto Benigni (who co-wrote the script) and his onscreen character have an insatiable zest for life, helping to explain the film’s schizophrenia: It builds slowly from charming romance to Holocaust drama, delivering, from start to finish, a tour de force of the human spirit. Co-starring Nicoletta Braschi.

Businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) arrives in Krakow in 1939, ready to make his fortune from World War II, which has just started. After joining the Nazi party primarily for political expediency, he staffs his factory with Jewish workers for similarly pragmatic reasons. When the SS begins killing Jews in the Krakow ghetto, Schindler arranges to have his workers protected to keep his factory in operation, but soon realizes that in so doing, he is also saving innocent lives.

Europa Europa is also based on a true account, of a Jewish boy who masqueraded as a Nazi Party activist to survive the Holocaust. Directed by Agnieszka Holland, who dealt with the Holocaust in several previous films, it tells the story of Solomon Perel, played by Marco Hofschneider. The family escapes to Poland but after its conquest by Germany, Solek is separated from family and lives in an orphanage. When the Nazis arrive, he ditches his papers, declares himself to be “Josef Peters”, an ethnic German and joins their forces in the war with Russia. He is sent to a Hitler Youth school, is almost shot by victorious Russian forces but survives the war – and reaches Israel. The movie won a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film.

Director Louis Malle recalls his experiences as a child forever impacted by a friendship that ends in a most horrific way. In 1943 France, upperclass boarding student Julien (Gaspard Manesse) meets, and initially detests, new student Jean (Raphael Fejto). However, the two eventually become good friends, and Julien discovers a secret: Jean is one of several Jewish children the priest running the school is hiding from Nazi police. What unfolds is a beautiful story of friendship that is ripped apart when the Gestapo is tipped off, and Julien unwittingly betrays his friend. The film ends with Malle’s voiceover: “More than 40 years have passed, but I’ll remember every second of that January morning until the day I die.”

Stingo (Peter MacNicol), a young writer, moves to Brooklyn in 1947 to begin work on his first novel. As he becomes friendly with Sophie (Meryl Streep) and her lover Nathan (Kevin Kline), he learns that Sophie is a Holocaust survivor. Flashbacks reveal her harrowing story, from pre-war prosperity to Auschwitz. In the present, Sophie and Nathan’s relationship increasingly unravels as Stingo grows closer to Sophie and Nathan’s fragile mental state becomes ever more apparent.

After witnessing the fates of his wife and children at the hands of Nazis, Holocaust survivor Sol (Rod Steiger, in an outstanding Oscar-nominated performance) has become a bitter and detached man. Now running a pawn shop in Harlem, he suffers flashbacks to his time in the concentration camp, causing an emotional detachment that results in tragedy in the present. Sidney Lumet’s haunting tale is credited with being the first American film to show the Holocaust from the viewpoint of a survivor, and continues to be influential and relevant today.

What more can be said about the young Jewish girl who lived in hiding, fearing for her life and the lives of her family members and friends, but also eloquently wrote of hope and belief in the kindness of man? This adaptation of her firsthand account of the events surrounding the Holocaust is considered to be the finest adaptation of her diary, with Millie Perkins giving a poignant portrayal of the inspirational girl, and Shelley Winters winning the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of a fellow Jew in hiding.

Short documentary film that was made ten years after the liberation of German concentration camps. The documentary features the abandoned grounds of Auschwitz and Majdanek established in occupied Poland while describing the lives of prisoners in the camps. “Night and Fog” was made in collaboration with scriptwriter Jean Cayrol, a survivor of the Mauthausen-Gusen concentration camp. The first part of “Night and Fog” shows remnants of Auschwitz while the narrator describes the rise of Nazi ideology. The film continues with comparisons of the life of the Schutzstaffel to the starving prisoners in the camps and their terrible ordeals. The final topic of the film depicts the liberation of the country, the discovery of the horror of the camps, and the questioning of who was responsible for them.