Entertainment Meets Faith
In honor of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, I’ve compiled a list of the best films that chronicle the horror suffered under Adolf Hitler’s rule, the triumphant spirit of those who fought for freedom, and the preserving courage an entire religious group showed as they tried to rebuild their lives post WWII.
"Best" Holocaust/World War II movie lists usually, and rightfully, include Sophie’s Choice, Schindler’s List, The Pianist, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, and maybe even The Great Escape. My list, however, highlights the best, lesser-known films you may have missed.
Swing Kids (1993)
Robert Sean Leonard, Christian Bale, Noah Wyle, Barbara Hershey
One of my favorite movies of all time, Swing Kids is the heart-wrenching story of friends bonded together with a love of banned American swing music living in Nazi Germany. Their friendships are tested as Nazi rule strengthens and they each must chose where their loyalties lie. It’s a phenomenal film that pits one’s prescribed duty against another’s desire for freedom. You will be tearing up. (Note: A disturbing bathtub scene is just one reason this film is not suitable for children.)
Life is Beautiful (1997)
Roberto Benigni, Nicoletta Braschi
This Oscar-winning, foreign language film is simply fantastic. Italy’s Robert Benigni wrote, directed, and starred in this wonderful movie about a Jewish man whose humor helps him nab the woman of his dreams, and years later, helps him protect his son in a Nazi death camp. Life is Beautiful will make you laugh, and then cry.
Jakob the Liar (1999)
Robin Williams, Alan Arkin, Liev Schreiber
Comedic actor Robin Williams carries a great amount of emotional depth in the role of Jakob, a Jewish shopkeeper in 1944 Poland. His story is one of perseverance as he and his neighborhoods, living a ghetto, try to hang onto hope that they will be liberated from Nazi oppression. Pretending to hide a “secret radio”, Jakob reports false news to his neighbors, as he tries to conceal his real secret – the fact that he’s hiding a young Jewish girl who escaped a camp transport train in his home. You may be partial to some of Williams’ comedy routines, but after seeing this you’ll see just how talented he can be.
Uprising (2001 / TV)
Leelee Sobieski, Hank Azaria, David Schwimmer, Jon Voight, Donald Sutherland, Stephen Moyer, Cary Elwes, Radha Mitchell
Though it is Hollywood’s take on the fortification of the Warsaw ghetto, Uprising is the best film (technically a TV miniseries) I’ve seen telling these fighters’ stories. Sure, it’s just a movie version of their torn-apart lives, but on some levels it does the true story justice. An all-star cast lends their acting talent to a daring story that should never be forgotten -- the 28-day Jewish rebellion in the Warsaw Ghetto in 1943, a violent resistance that lasted longer against than the country of Poland did against the occupiers. (Note: Though it is unrated, parents should know that due to its thematic elements, it is unsuitable for children.)
Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine, Pelé, Max von Sydow
As the holocaust was claiming lives, Allied Forces fearlessly fought the German military on many fronts. Though many films have been made that retell the stories of WWII prisoners of war, many of them well done, Victory is in a league of its own. Loosely based on a true story, this film follows a group of POWs as they train to play the German National Team. Expected to lose miserably, the out-of-shape prisoners are the ultimate underdog as they attempt to beat the German team in front of high commanding Nazi officers and escape in the process.
Charlotte Gray (2001)
Cate Blanchett, Billy Crudup, Michael Gambon
Easily one of my top ten favorite films of all time, Charlotte Gray is about a young Scottish woman who becomes a spy for England to find her Royal Air Force boyfriend who is lost after crashing in France. Meeting up with the French Resistance, Charlotte’s bravery is tried as she relay valuable information to headquarters. Her insurgence into a small French town comes at a time when German forces are increasing their hold over the area. As viewers, we see how the community is transformed by the occupation and how neighbors easily turn on each other.
Paul Newman, Eva Marie Saint
Hope after the holocaust is the driving force behind Paul Newman’s Exodus, as it shows the founding of the state of Israel. Displaced from their homes in Europe, a ship load of Jewish immigrants are on their way to Israel when the British authorities block their passage to the Holy Land. This epic return-home film is a grand cinematic look at the early days of the new state.