The Pianist (2003)
The Pianist is not an easy watch. Nor would you expect a Holocaust film to be. It is based on the memoirs of Jewish pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman (Adrien Brody), who lived a comfortable middle-class life residing with his mother, father, brother and two sisters in Warsaw during the Nazi-German 1939 invasion of Poland.
Through his eyes, we see the families’ life slowly eroded by anti-Jewish laws. First wearing the Star of David in public. His father is beaten by an SS guard for daring to use the pavement. Neighbours brutally murdered on their doorstep. You begin to feel their growing sense of fear. They are forcibly removed from their apartment into the Warsaw ghetto – the largest in Europe at that time. Work was available for the able-bodied few; the rest left to starve or become disease victims. Then rounded into holding pens before boarding trains destined for Auschwitz. A Jewish police officer whom Szpilman knows saves him from line-up (and his fate) but from there his journey is bleak. He is at the mercy of friends who hide him in a safe flat where he witnesses the Warsaw Uprising. Many scenes are hauntingly harrowing. It is like watching an unforgettable night terror.
The horrors reduce Spilzman to a shell of his former self. Weak, emaciated, a broken and bearded caveman, whose only purpose – his only one left – is to survive. Although difficult, it is a must-watch.
Schindler’s List (1994)
Often thought of as the definitive Holocaust film. One reason being that it is shot in black and white, so grim and colourless are the atrocities it depicts. We witness the humiliation, degradation, and horror the Jews were subjected to throughout Nazi occupation.
Oskar Schindler was a German enamel-factory owner and member of the Nazi party – an unlikely hero. He was initially motivated by profit – employing Jews in his factory as they were cheaper labour than their German counterparts. However, as the war went on, he became concerned for his workers’ safety and bribed Nazi SS officials with money and goods (eventually losing all his fortune) to spare them from deportation to the concentration camps. He was credited with convincing sadistic SS Commandant, Amon Goth (of Krakow-Plaszow camp) to allow him to move his factory to a new location, thus sparing them from an otherwise certain death. A list of 12,000 names were compiled – the ‘Schindlerjuden’ as they later became known.
Perhaps the most moving scene comes at the end – when the families of the descendants Schindler saved, line up to visit his grave in Jerusalem. Lastly, and poignantly, the actor who plays Schindler, Liam Neeson, lays two red roses on the stone marker. Another must-watch.
Operation Finale (2018)
If after all the depressing watching, and it is frankly depressing, here is a film about catching one of the bad guys.
Adolf Eichmann was the logistical mastermind behind the mass deportation of the Jews by train to the concentration camps, also known as the “Final Solution”. After WWII ended, he exiled in Argentina where he evaded capture for years. An Israeli secret agent team plot for his capture and extradition to Jerusalem where he would ultimately be tried for war crimes in the first televised trial of its kind which was broadcast around the world.
Less focus on the horror of the war itself but a tense cat and mouse chase for some resemblance of justice. Legendary actor Sir Ben Kingsley (also appearing in Schindler’s List) plays Eichmann. I don’t really need to say more.