The most compelling under-the-radar movies about the Holocaust
In the wake of Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), revisit stories of survival through features and documentaries you probably haven’t seen, but should.
When it comes to movies about Hitler’s genocide of 6 million Jews and millions more Poles, Ukranians, Slovenians, Serbs, LGBT people and others, in Nazi Germany during World War II, the list of mainstream favourites is long. Many are acclaimed works of art, nuanced, evocative and studded with stars — think of Schindler’s List, The Pianist, The Great Dictator, Inglourious Basterds, and Life is Beautiful.
But there are equally stunning under-the-radar features and documentaries that follow those who were caught up, victimised and killed, in one of the ugliest periods in human history. In the wake of Holocaust Remembrance Day (January 27), here’s a list of five of the most compelling Holocaust movies you probably haven’t seen, but should.
Ida (2013): Directed by Paweł Pawlikowski of Poland, this is a stunningly shot black-and-white feature about a young woman named Anna who is set to take vows as a Catholic nun when she learns from her aunt that her family were Jewish and her parents were killed in the Holocaust. Her name, she’s told, wasn’t Anna but Ida. Her aunt doesn’t know any more about what happened to the family, so the two women go on a road trip, into the Polish countryside, to trace their roots, and Ida rediscovers herself, goes partying, finds love, and starts to ask herself what she really wants. Available on YouTube.
The Lady in Number 6: Music Saved My Life (2013): Alice Sommer-Herz lost everything to the Nazi genocide, but her love for music kept her going. She was 109, and the world’s oldest Holocaust survivor, at the time of filming. In this documentary directed by Malcolm Clarke, she talks of losing her husband and son to a concentration camp, and finding the will to live, through the prisoner orchestra. Among the labours assigned to her, was playing the piano. And slowly, it brought her back to life. Her skill at the piano also meant she was not sent to the gas chambers. “Nothing can be terrible when there’s music. Music is dream, music is dream,” she says. Available on Gloria TV.
Numbered (2012): Every concentration camp inmate had an identification number inked on to their body. Director Dana Doron, through this documentary, traces the stories of some of those tattoos. One family decided to keep the memory of their murdered father alive. The number that was tattooed on him in Auschwitz is now in their bank account numbers, internet passwords, tattooed on one granddaughter’s ankle. Two sisters who lost their entire family were never separated, because on them were tattooed consecutive numbers. A dark film, but one that is eventually life-affirming. Available on Netflix.
Red Trees (2017): Director Marina Willer traces her father Alfred’s journey, with his family, from Prague to Brazil, to escape the Nazis. The film recreates, to stunning effect, what it was like to be fleeing through war-torn Eastern Europe, hiding in defunct factories. The title comes from Alfred’s colour blindness, which adds an interesting layer of complexity and symbolism to the tale. Available on Netflix.
Denial (2016): Writer Deborah Lipstadt (played by Rachel Weisz) is sued by a German historian after she calls him a Holocaust denier. The movie, directed by Mick Jackson, takes interesting turns as it delves into the details of the case. The film is based on the book, History on Trial: My Day in Court with a Holocaust Denier, by Lipstadt, which was based on the court case she fought from 1996 to 2000. Available on Hulu and Google Movies.