Holocaust Movies For Children and Youngsters

The Holocaust – a black page in the history of humanity; a calculating crime that claimed nearly six million innocent lives. How do filmmakers refer to this dramatic event to nurture the memory of its victims and promote pacifist attitudes among children and young people? We present a list of the most interesting and moving films about the Holocaust to watch with the whole family or with the class in history lessons.

Holocaust films that can be shown to children and young people

1. ”Life Is Beautiful” (“La vita è bella”, 1997, director: Roberto Benigni)

holocaust movies - Life is beautiful

“Life is Beautiful” is an award-winning (3 Oscars, Cannes Grand Prix, Cesar…) Italian film that is a masterful blend of tragedy and comedy. It’s 1939 and a cheerful and vividly imaginative Italian of Jewish descent, Guido Orefice (played by Roberto Benigni) arrives in the Tuscan town of Arezzo with the dream of opening his own bookstore. While there, he falls in love with the beautiful Dora (Nicoletta Braschi), whom he marries. Soon a boy (Giorgio Cantarini) is born to them. The idyllic life of the young family is interrupted when, after Italy goes over to the side of the Allies, all three are sent to a concentration camp. Wanting to spare his son from fear and suffering, Guido convinces him that what is happening around them is just a game, and the reward for courage will be… a real tank.

2. “Jojo Rabbit”, 2019 (director: Taika Waititi)

Movies about holocaust for children - Jojo Rabbit

“Jojo Rabbit” is a brilliant war comedy-drama based on the novel “Caging Skies” (2008) by Christine Leunens. The story takes place in the Third Reich. Ten-year-old Johannes “Jojo” Betzler (Roman Griffin Davis) is a fanatical member of a Nazi organization of adolescent followers of Adolf Hitler. The boy even imagines that the Führer is his best friend (Taika Waititi) and spends hours with him in imaginary discussions and games. One day Jojo discovers that his mother (Scarlett Johansson) is hiding a Jewish woman (Thomasin McKenzie) in the house. The young Nazi gradually develops a fondness for the girl and becomes convinced that the ideology he blindly believed in is dangerous and based on false assumptions. The film was nominated for an Oscar in six categories, one of which – for best adapted screenplay – turned into a statuette.

3. “The Search”, 1948 (director: Fred Zinnemann)

Holocaust films for teens - The Search

“The Search” is a touching and hopeful story about the strength of family ties, filmed shortly after the war in ruined Germany. A 9-year-old Czech boy (Ivan Jandl), a survivor of Auschwitz, ends up in a refugee camp run by the UNRR, where children of different nationalities wait to meet their loved ones. One day the frightened protagonist escapes from the shelter and gets into the care of a kind-hearted American soldier (Montgomery Clift). The man and the child become friends with each other. Meanwhile, the boy’s mother (Jarmila Novotná) travels miles to find him….

“The Search” won the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay and the Academy Juvenile Award for Ivan Jandel (between 1934 and 1960, a special Oscar was awarded for actors under 18). Polish extras and episodists were involved in the production of the film.

4. “The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas”, 2008 (director: Mark Herman)

Best Holocaust Films For Youngsters - The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is a tear-squeezing screen adaptation of John Boyne’s novel of the same title (2006). Eight-year-old Bruno (Asa Butterfield), who lives in Berlin, moves with his entire family to the countryside after his father, an SS officer (David Thewlis), receives a new assignment from his superiors. While wandering alone in the countryside, the protagonist discovers a mysterious set of buildings surrounded by barbed wire and befriends a “boy in striped pyjamas” named Shmul (Jack Scanlon), who sits just outside the fence. What will happen if one day Bruno manages to cross the border between the two worlds and wears the blue-and-white striped outfit himself?

5. “The Zookeeper’s Wife”, 2017 (director: Niki Caro)

Films about holocaust - The Zookeepers wife

“The Zookeeper’s Wife” is a Hollywood production depicting the true story of Warsaw Zoo owners Antonina and Jan Żabiński (Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) as described in Diane Ackerman’s 2007 book. During World War II, the Polish couple hid refugees from the Warsaw Ghetto on the grounds of the abandoned zoo. It is estimated that thanks to their heroic attitude, some three hundred Jews were saved from extermination. In 1965, Mr. and Mrs. Żabiński were awarded the Righteous Among the Nations medal.

Niki Caro’s film pays tribute to the pair of zoologists, keeping in mind both their sacrifice in the fight for human life and their love for animals.

Special Mention: screen adaptations of “The Diary of Young Girl” (1947) by Anne Frank

Best holocaust movies for youth - The Diary of Ann frank

“Against all odds, I still believe that people are really good at heart,” are the words written in a diary by Anne Frank, a Jewish girl born in Frankfurt am Main in 1929. Between 1942 and 1944, Anne hid from persecution with her parents and sister in Amsterdam. Her Diary, which she began writing at the age of 13, is a tragic testimony to the effects of anti-Semitism. The last entry is dated August 1, 1944. A few days later, the Frank family was arrested and taken to Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The teenager died shortly before its liberation.

Anne Frank’s diary has lived to see numerous film adaptations, which also include TV series and movies. The most famous of these is the 3 Academy Award-winning “The Diary of Anne Frank” (dir. George Stevens, 1959), starring Millie Perkins. An animated film “Where is Anne Frank?” is currently in development, overseen by Waltz with Bashir (2008) creator Ari Folman. A foretaste of this intriguing project is his and David Polonsky’s comic book, which was published in Poland in 2019 by Stapis.