”With cinema being a main vehicle for people to understand history and real-life events being a major source for screenwriters and movie producers Anne-Marie Lyons discusses the most poignant depictions of the holocaust in cinema.

The world news has often been a source of inspiration for screenwriters across the globe, whether it be a terrorist attack or the death of a leading figure, there is always a film to help the public understand and educate them on world history. The Holocaust is a popular example of this. However, many filmmakers struggle to produce movies that depict one of the world’s greatest tragedies in an acceptable manner. How do you make a film about such incomprehensible events? Some of the world’s greatest directors (for example Roman Polanski) have found such a delicate subject matter hard to replicate in a respectful way on screen.

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“How do you make a film about such incomprehensible events?”

Schindler’s List is an infamous film that explores the atrocity that was the Holocaust. Steven Spielberg’s unflinching masterpiece tells the story of Oskar Schindler, a Nazi businessman who shielded over 1,000 of his Jewish employees from the wrath of the Third Reich. The epic vision trails Polish Jews as they’re evacuated from their homes, forced into ghettos and eventually concentration camps. Shot in black and white so as to show a world drained of any colour or sense of life, Schindler’s List is punctuated by an iconic shot of a single girl in a red coat, which begins Schindler’s transformation from opportunist to hero. Spielberg was hesitant to take on such a film in the beginning, as he was unsure if he was ready to make a film about the Holocaust, being Jewish himself. The epic historical period drama is often listed among the greatest films ever made, with ‘Rotten Tomatoes’ reporting that the film “blends the abject horror of the Holocaust with Steven Spielberg’s signature tender humanism to create the director’s dramatic masterpiece”. Films similar to Schindler’s List, for example Europa Europa and In Darkness are all targeted towards a more mature audience and act as brutal reminders of how cruel and callous that part of history truly was.

As hard as it is to portray such horrific events to an adult audience, filmmakers struggle more so when it comes to Holocaust films for teens and children. Few directors have attempted to do so, however the few that have, have created masterpieces in their own right. Films such as The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas make for difficult viewing, however still effectively depict the realities of the Holocaust to children. The story follows a German boy named Bruno who befriends a Jewish boy in a concentration camp, named Shmuel. The intended audience of the film would be pre-adolescent to adolescents. This audience can relate to Bruno, who is becoming more aware of the world surrounding him. Although adults may find some historical novelty in seeing the aspects of the Holocaust through the eyes of the child, the targeted audience is able to understand and relate to Bruno. They also are able to learn about the atrocities that occurred through the eyes of someone their age – they are able to fully comprehend and sympathise with characters like Bruno and Shmuel, as they see reflections of themselves in these characters. Films like The Diary of Anne Frank also attempt to teach children about this period of history through the characters within the story.

‘Films about the Holocaust are often tear jerkers that stand the test of time for their honest and harrowing human portrayal of life under oppression and serve as a brutal reminder for how quickly freedom can be taken away.’’

The Holocaust is an extremely disturbing part of the world’s history. As much as we wish to ignore it, it is vital that we remember the appalling and gruesome treatment so many people received at that time. Former Israeli ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman said, as the generation of Holocaust survivors and liberators dwindles, the torch of remembrance, of bearing witness, and of education must continue forward.”  Films like Sophie’s Choice, Life is Beautiful, Judgement at Nuremberg and The Pianist all have touched on the harrowing subject matter of the Holocaust and depicted it in a respectful and accepting way. These films are ageless and will allow generation after generation to be educated and not forget this event in history. Films about the Holocaust are often tear jerkers that stand the test of time for their honest and harrowing human portrayal of life under oppression and serve as a brutal reminder for how quickly freedom can be taken away.