Best Holocaust Movies of All Time

Thursday, July 1, 2010 at 8:28 am

The best Holocaust movies of all time offer a sobering look at one of the worst times in human history. As World War II raged, the Nazis systematically rounded up European Jews and shipped them to death camps such as Sobibor, Auschwitz, and Treblinka. There, they were stripped naked and herded into showers with the promise of hot coffee waiting for them on the other side. They would never come out alive, as pellets of Zyklon-B were dropped into the room, releasing lethal levels of hydrogen cyanide. Afterwards, their mouths were searched for gold fillings, the hair of women was shaved, and then the lifeless shells were disposed of in a crematoria. By the end of the war, six million Jews met their fate in this way, but that’s hardy the end of it.

Jews weren’t the only group targeted by Hitler and his Nazi regime. The following groups were also singled out for either the death camps, concentration camps, or immediate execution in the streets and back-alleys of Europe:

With these individuals added in, the number of people killed during the Holocaust is estimated to be anywhere from 11 to 17 million people.

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While it’s hard to imagine living through such a nightmare, the best Holocaust movies of all time offer about as close a glimpse as the average citizen will ever get.

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) – Millie Perkins stars as Anne Frank, a young Jewish girl forced to hide from the Germans in the secret rooms of her father’s office building. Based on real-life events taken from Anne’s diary, the film was adapted from the Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

Schindler’s List (1993) – Steven Spielberg directed this tale of Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), a war profiteer who finds his humanity and begins a dangerous scheme to save the life of local Jews. Ralph Fiennes is memorable as the cold-blooded commander of the local concentration camp. Winner of seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Director.

The Pianist (2002) – Adrien Brody stars as Jewish-Polish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman, a talented musician caught up in the horrors of World War II, especially those centered around the Warsaw Ghetto. Directed by Roman Polanski, the film earned Brody an Oscar for Best Actor (the youngest actor to win the award).

Night and Fog (1955) – Made a decade after the liberation of the European concentration camps, this 32-minute documentary was filmed on the grounds of Majdanek and Auschwitz. Taking a look at both life in the camps and the horrific rise of Nazi ideology, director Alain Resnais created what legendary French filmmaker and critic Francois Truffaut referred to as the greatest film ever made. I’d say that more than qualifies it for this list of the best Holocaust movies of all time.

Life Is Beautiful (1997) – Winner of four Academy Awards, Life Is Beautiful plays out like two films rolled into one. The first half is a charming romantic comedy that follows Italian Jew Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni, who wrote, directed, and starred) as he sets out to win the affections of a school teacher from the upper class. The second half takes place several years later following the outbreak of World War II. With his family placed in a concentration camp, Guido goes to great lengths to keep his son’s spirits up, even managing to convince him that events in the camp are part of an elaborate game that the father/son duo must win.

Distant Journey (1949) – Released just after the events of World War II, this Czech masterpiece sat on the shelf for over 40 years thanks to communist censorship. Telling the story of a Jewish eye doctor who falls in love with a gentile, director Alfred Radok combines his own footage with that of newsreel footage and scenes from Triumph of the Will to create a deeply personal look at the Holocaust.

Sophie’s Choice (1982) – Peter MacNicol plays a young writer who moves to Brooklyn to finish his novel, and he soon befriends a Polish immigrant named Sophie Zawistowski (Meryl Streep) and her lover (Kevin Kline). As events progress, we slowly come to learn about Sophie’s past, especially that which takes place in the death camp at Auschwitz. When the “choice” of the title is finally revealed, you’ll most likely be shedding tears of anguish. Streep won the Best Actress Oscar, and many still cite the film as her finest performance.

Triumph of the Spirit (1989) – Willem Dafoe stars as real-life boxer Salamo Arouch, a boxer interned in Auschwitz and forced to fight other prisoners. If he wins, he receives extra rations to give to his family. If he loses, he’ll be sent to the gas chamber. Also starring Robert Loggia and Edward James Olmos.

Au Revoir, les Enfants (1987) – Based on childhood events from the life of director Louis Malle, the film tells of a Catholic boarding school whose students aren’t spared the cruelty of the Nazis. Nominated for two Academy Awards, it paints a haunting portrait of how innocence is the first casualty of war.

The Pawnbroker (1965) – Rod Steiger shot to fame as the star of the first American film to deal with Holocaust through the eyes of a survivor. After losing his family in a concentration camp, Sol Nazerman (Steiger) now operates a pawn shop in Harlem. But a conflict with a pimp and racketeer known as Rodriguez (Brock Peters) brings all his painful memories rushing back.

The following links are also recommended if you found this list of the best Holocaust movies of all time to be helpful:

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14 Responses to “Best Holocaust Movies of All Time”

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July 1, 2010

Freddy Lejeune

I do not think that any movie or even a novel can describe the horrors of the Holocaust. The only posasible result may be that the viewers or readers may be sensitized to the horror to strive for tolerance in their lives. To me, the Holocaust is a human act which is still incomprehensible. The depth of their own degradation as humans of perpetrators and bystanders to me is still beyond comprehension. How come that these people had their conscience so debased, For example, my late aunt and uncle long before their deportation were dehunanized with the assent of their neighbors as bystanders . They as adults were restricted to a curfew. They had to wear a yellow star of David to isolate them . They could not travel . They could not buy groceries except twice a week only for an hour at designated stores. They had to seek written permission from the Gestapo to visit a jewish doctor or to fill thereafter any prescription such as for a new pair of eyeglasses as documented in the archives of Taunusstein in the case of my late aunt. They were forbidden to set a tombstone on the grave of my late grandmother who died on June 1, 1938. An infinite number of edicts, laws restricted the lives of German Jews. Germans as neighbors stood by and did not protest. Instead, most assented with alacrity to the dehumanization . An estimatd 500,000 Germans participated actively in those steps that led to the Holocaust. The sole goal was to dehumanizze German Jews, step by step , until the final act of deporting them under the deception that they were to be resettled to the East, They were not told of their destination. Instead they were processed, as in the case of my relatives, over a week end in Frankfurt with 1,000 others, in a systematic deprivation of their belongings with the final act of having them turn over theur house key . to the Nazis. They had also to turn over all their finances to the Nazis allegedly topay for their transportation to their resettlement and to assure for their upkeep at the resettlement location, They were then sent to the extermination camp of Sobibor based on the criteria that they were over 50 years old . They arrived there three days later likely to be gassed shortly after their arrival. How does one explain the depravationo f those from bystanders to those Ukrainaian collaborators at the concentration camp, one of whom is on trial now in Germany. How can any person understand the evil a human being inflicted on another? How can one undersyand that some of the reported acts of Ukrainian guards seizing little girls , dragging them into their barracks to forciblly defile them and then get them gassed! How does explain the mass murder of jewish children incuding infants in the Ukraine in August 1941 when Germans themselves recoiled and had their Ukrainian auxiliaries do the killing. ? Neither film nor novel , in my view, can ever communicate such atrocities, such affront to the conscience of the world!

July 1, 2010


Thanks for sharing, Freddy. I agree that no movie or novel can truly capture the horror that went on during those times. Art can only seek to imitate life. But I do think films about the Holocaust are important, as each generation becomes further removed from the events and needs to be reminded of what happened. They say that history repeats itself. With continued education and documentation, let’s hope the Holocaust is one chapter of human history that’s never written again.

July 11, 2010

Anne Seng

Great stuff. thanks for this

August 8, 2010


Sophie’s Choice is a movie I will NEVER forget. You can’t imagine anything more cruel than what they ask of her.
I saw Triumph of the Spirit recently. Kept on thinking: How was that possible… How did anyone go along with this madness…
Very good list, really.

December 24, 2010

Kim Atkins

Faithful Abraham pleased God and for his faithfulness, God said his descendants would be blessed. This is the race of Jewish people who have been persecuted since ancient times. God bless every writer, poet, lyricist who has attempted to convey the evils of this dark regime. Although Satan intends to wipe out God’s chosen people, the grace of our Lord has prevailed and Enabled their lives. We must continute to inform our children of the Spirit behind the Nazis. It is alive and well – despite Hitler’s death.

December 30, 2010


I saw a tv movie in early 80’s several times but can’t remember the movie title still. The only movie scenes I could remember is 1)family seperated at camp (men on one side and women and children on one side), son ran to father, father tell soldiers that son can help him in his trade (carpenter? shoemaker?), 2) father forced to pull gold teeth out of jews’ mouths. 3) naked,sad,thin jews in long line (to their death) into a large building with stinky smokes come out of chimneys on the roof. Want to buy it for my teen son to learn the horrors for Jews in Nazi era. Hope anyone can help me.Thanks.

December 31, 2010



January 2, 2011

Dodin Alexandru

Are you mentally challenged?? “immediate execution in the streets and back-alleys of Europe:
Romani (also known as Gypsies)…”
Romanians have nothing to do with gypsies, they are two different ethnic groups, the gypsie ethnicity is a minority that lives in Romania.
Why don’t you research a little before you post such a crap??? Grab a history book moron!

January 4, 2011


From Wikipedia:

“In the late 20th century the use of exonyms often became controversial. Groups often prefer that outsiders avoid exonyms where they have come to be used in a pejorative way; for example, Romani people prefer that term over exonyms like Gypsy (from Egypt), or the French term bohème (from Bohemia). People may also seek to avoid exonyms due to historical sensitivities, as in the case of German names for Polish and Czech places which used to be ethnically or politically German (e.g. Danzig/Gdańsk and Karlsbad/Karlovy Vary), much like Russian place names being used for locations once under its control (e.g. Kiev/Kyiv).”

January 4, 2011

Dodin Alexandru

:))))and you trust Wikipedia which has NO scientific base??? I am romanian so trust me, romanians are not gypsies! You may be confused by the fact that after 1989 the gypsy tag was changed by the government into “Rromi” for that minority, which has nothing to do with romanian history. Even if you were referring to gypsies, you spelled it wrong..the “official” term is Rromi not Romani. Stop spreading ignorance.

January 5, 2011


And here I thought that all gypsies were fun-loving characters like Brad Pitt in Snatch.

January 17, 2011


Marina B movie your thinking about is The Grey Zone

February 20, 2011


Loved the Pianist! One of the best for sure.

February 20, 2011


I think the film Marina may b thinking of is escape from sobibor x

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