15 Moving Movies and TV Shows to Watch on Holocaust Remembrance Day
These movies, documentaries and series present vital history that must be remembered.
One of the greatest and most powerful things about filmed entertainment is the way it can keep history alive. On International Holocaust Remembrance Day (Jan. 27), we annually remember the six million Jewish people killed in the Holocaust and millions more victims of genocide. In observance of Remembrance Day, we've compiled a list of great films and TV shows about the Holocaust. For this list, we've included essential documentary and narrative features, as well as television series, that present vital history that must be remembered. Here are 15 essential movies and TV shows about the Holocaust.
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Best Movies and Shows about The Holocaust
Schindler's List (1993)
Steven Spielberg's staggering biopic starring Liam Neeson as Oskar Schindler, a wartime industrialist credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews, is widely considered to be one of the best films ever made. The director famously didn't make any money from the picture that grossed over $320 million worldwide. He instead used the profits to create the Righteous Persons Foundation, dedicated to ensuring "the moral lessons of the Holocaust are not forgotten."
Schindler's List is a masterwork that everyone should see at least once. It's harrowing but it's also an inspiring testament to the power of an individual to make positive change.
Related: All of Steven Spielberg's Movies, Ranked
The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)
Anne Frank's posthumously published The Diary of a Young Girl is the basis for numerous adaptations, most famously a Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 play and George Stevens' acclaimed 1959 film. Shelley Winters won a Best Supporting Actress Academy Award for her performance as Petronella van Daan. In 1975, the actress donated the Oscar to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, where it is still on display.
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The Boy in the Striped Pajamas (2008)
Hugo's Asa Butterfield stars alongside Vera Farmiga and David Thewlis in a film adaption of the 2006 novel about a forbidden friendship between two boys on either side of a concentration camp's barbed wire fence. The fictional narrative has received some criticism for its historical inaccuracies, not unlike that directed at Life is Beautiful, though many have praised the film for making the vital subject matter accessible to a general family audience.
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Running over nine hours, Claude Lanzmann's documentary ("Shoah" means "the catastrophe in Hebrew) eschews any historical footage in favor of interviews with survivors, witnesses and perpetrators. The filmmaking (notably the effect of laying the audio of a testimony over a setting where the account took place) was considered groundbreaking and influential. Unforgettable and profound, Shoah is universally hailed as one of the greatest of documentaries—possibly the very best.
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The Counterfeiters (2007)
Karl Markovics delivers a stunning performance in this fictionalization of Operation Bernhard, a failed effort by the Nazis to destabilize the U.K.'s economy through a mass forgery of bank notes. Developed closely with Holocaust survivor Adolf Burger (the film is based on his memoir), The Counterfeiters won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Sophie's Choice (1982)
Meryl Streep won a Best Actress Oscar for an astounding, infamously heart-wrenching turn in Alan J. Pakula's drama about a Polish immigrant haunted by a dark past. Roger Ebert named this the best picture of 1982, and Streep's central performance is widely considered one of the finest in the history of film.
Related: Duchess Kate Took a Boat Trip on Lake Windermere With Holocaust Survivors
Years before the international success of romantic drama Cold War, Pawel Pawlikowski (whose paternal grandmother was Jewish, and killed in Auschwitz) directed this masterful road movie about an aspiring nun who discovers she's of Jewish lineage. Ida became the first-ever Polish film to win the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, and is widely regarded as a modern masterpiece.
The Zookeeper's Wife (2017)
Jessica Chastain delivers a characteristically strong performance in Niki Caro's war film based on a real-life Polish couple who rescued hundreds of Jews by hiding them within their zoo during WWII. The Zookeeper's Wife divided critics but received an overall positive response from audiences.
The Reader (2008)
Stephen Daldry directed Kate Winslet in a drama from the 1995 book of the same name. The actress plays a former Nazi camp guard who has an affair with a younger man years before she's tried for war crimes. Winslet won the Best Actress Oscar, the same year she gave another career-high performance in Revolutionary Road.
The Pianist (2002)
Adrien Brody won a Best Actor Oscar for this acclaimed drama based on the memoir of Holocaust survivor Władysław Szpilman. The Pianist was nominated for seven Oscars in total, including Best Picture. Director Roman Polanski, a Holocaust survivor himself, won Best Director. He didn't accept the Oscar in person, because he was in hiding in Europe after pleading guilty to unlawful intercourse with a minor in 1977.
Son of Saul (2015)
Winner of Cannes' Grand Prix, László Nemes' feature directorial debut is a harrowing and uncompromising look at Jewish workers forced to dispose of the dead at Auschwitz. Focused and rewarding rather than melodramatic in its depiction of unthinkable atrocities, Son of Saul was only the second Hungarian film in history to win the Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film.
Life Is Beautiful (1997)
Somewhat divisive to this day—but undeniably, enormously successful—Roberto Benigni's dramedy centers on a bookshop owner who uses his imagination to soften his young son's experience of imprisonment at a concentration camp. Life Is Beautiful grossed a staggering $230 million worldwide. The film also won the Oscar for Best Foreign Language film, and Benigni famously became the first-ever performer to win Best Actor for a non-English-speaking role.
Anne Frank: The Whole Story (2001)
A terrific cast including Ben Kingsley, Lili Taylor, Hannah Taylor-Gordon and Secrets and Lies' Brenda Blethyn starred in this two-part ABC miniseries event based on Melissa Müller's Anne Frank: The Biography. The miniseries won a Peabody Award and the Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries.
War and Remembrance (1988)
Robert Mitchum and Jane Seymour starred in a uniquely ambitious ABC miniseries exploring WWII from various angles. Created by Herman Wouk and based on his own book, War and Remembrance explored the Holocaust at length, and Wouk required many of these scenes to run without any commercial interruption.
At the time of its production, the $104 million-budgeted War and Remembrance was the most expensive filmed entertainment ever (for reference, the first movie to cost over $100 million was True Lies in 1994). War and Remembrance won the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Miniseries.
Meryl Streep and James Woods headlined the cast of NBC's flagship miniseries depicting the Holocaust through the eyes of a fictional family. Widely viewed over four decades, Holocaust has been both praised for educating audiences about the Holocaust and criticized for depicting its horrors in a manner that was inevitably softened for 1970s television. The eight-part event won the Emmy and Golden Globe for Outstanding Miniseries.
Next, take a look at powerful Holocaust memorials around the world.