Yes it happened. Yes Adolf Hitler not only knew about it, he planned and ordered it. Hitler was all at once the man firing the gun and he was the gun itself; both were centuries of indifference and hatred toward the Jews.
World War II in Europe was as much, or more, about Hitler’s diabolical plan to rid Europe of the Jewish race as it was about anything else. Historian Paul Johnson wrote, “Jews died in every kind of way known to depraved humanity.” In less than six years Hitler and his Nazi killing machine murdered six million of Nazi-controlled Europe’s nine million Jews; 67% of European Jew men, women, and children.
It’s not quite right to say no single movie can “do it justice.” There is no justice for what was done. However, these ten movies give us a glimpse of the horror that was the Holocaust.
1. Schindler’s List (1993) is Steven Spielberg’s masterpiece true story ofOskar Schindler, a German businessman and entrepreneur who at first, like many Nazi industrialists took full advantage of the Nazi dispossession and extermination of the Jews. Then, unlike many of those industrialists, Schindler’s eyes were opened and he spent his fortune saving as many Jews as he could.
Schindler was the only Nazi to be honored by Israel as one of the “Righteous among Nations.”
The movie isn’t “pleasant” and is rated R.
2. Auschwitz – Inside the Nazi State (2005) is the BBC’s award-winning docudrama about the Nazi killing camp Auschwitz where more people were murdered than any other single site on earth.
Narrated by acclaimed actress Linda Hunt, Auschwitz shows a truth about humanity that few people want to know.
3. Defiance (2008) stars Daniel Craig (James Bond) in this true story of two brothers who led a band of fighting Jews in the largest rescue of Jews by Jews during World War II. It’s a first-rate story with top notch acting.
4. Uprising (2001) tells the true story of the 1943 Jewish revolt in Warsaw. Led by a 24-year old man, 750 fighting Jews fought the Nazis, who were destroying the Ghetto and sending Jews to the death camps, for an astonishing 28 days. The movie stars Leelee Sobieski, David Schwimmer (Friends), Jon Voight, and Donald Sutherland.
5. Escape from Sobibor (1987) stars Alan Arkin and Rutger Hauer in the true account of the Sobibor death camp where not only Jews but Russian POWs met their deaths at the savage hands of the Nazi SS. Of 600 prisoners almost 300 escape in perhaps the most daring escape story of World War II. It’s a great story but don’t expect a fairy tale happily-ever-after ending. The triumph of the Jews during World War II wasn’t how they survived but rather how they lived and died.
6. Anne Frank – The Whole Story (2001) is of course based on the diary of Anne Frank; a young Jewish girl who along with her family hid from the Nazis for two years in Amsterdam. Anne Frank is perhaps the most well known victim of the Holocaust. The movie stars acclaimed actor Ben Kingsley as Anne Frank’s father and Hannah Taylor-Gordon as Anne.
7. Devils’s Arithmetic (1999) stars Kirsten Dunst as a present day teenage girl who is indifferent about her Jewish heritage. That is, until she finds herself in 1942 Poland and a Nazi death camp. When she returns to her own era she has a new appreciation for what her relatives endured.
8. The Grey Zone (2001) is set in Auschwitz, the infamous Nazi death camp. Just as the Sonderkommandos (Jewish death camp workers) are on the brink of initiating the largest death camp uprising in history they find a survivor, an infant, of one of the gassings amidst the corpses in a gas chamber. Their desperate efforts to save the child jeopardize their plans for the revolt and possibly the chances to save thousands of Jews.
Based on a true story, the film stars Mira Sorvino, David Arquette, and Harvey Keitel.
9. Conspiracy (2001) recreates the infamous Berlin suburb of Wannsee meeting during which the Nazi “Final Solution” was discussed by senior Nazi officials (Hitler wasn’t present). It was characteristic of Hitler to distance himself from the actual plans and to only give verbal orders. The Nazi often spoke in code when discussing their genocide plans. Thus “jurisdiction” meant “execution.”
The film stars fine actors Kenneth Branagh and Stanley Tucci.
10. The Holocaust (1978) is CBC’s epic miniseries and perhaps the first full depiction of the Holocaust. It follows a Jewish family and a Nazi SS officer through the many threads of the Holocaust.
Unfortunately the dialogue is somewhat like listening to an audio-history book. The cinematography is typical 1970s made for television, and the life action is stiff and robotic. Nevertheless, it’s worth a watch and everything that happens in the movie actually happened during the Holocaust; just not all to one family and one Nazi officer.
Meryl Streep and James Woods apparently got their big starts with this movie.
Honorable mentions: These fine films give further insight into the Holocaust criminals and victims via the war crimes trial depictions…
Judgment at Nuremberg (1961), Nuremberg (2000)
There are many other fine Holocaust films both US and foreign made. Entertaining isn’t an appropriate description of those movies but they’re informative and instructive, and yes, entertaining in a sense.
We must remember and understand the Holocaust not to be bitter and blaming but rather to be alert and make sure it never happens again. (Sadly, genocide still occurs in parts of the world).
Author’s film collection
Paul Johnson: A History of the Jews
Movie web sites
IMB (Internet Movie Database)