The Holocaust was one of the worst times in history and is a tough subject to teach. Here is a list of Holocaust movies for middle school and high school that are PG-13 or under.
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I am a major supporter of teaching history through movies. Nothing can bring history to life like the big screen. Even if they’re not 100% historically accurate, many invite looking further into the topic and the true story surrounding it. (History vs Hollywood is a great resource for easily vetting what was true and what wasn’t.)
I also don’t think it’s very wise to show a fourth grader Schindler’s List. After the positive response from Historical Movies for Kids, I expanded into movies for teens that aren’t appropriate for kids, but aren’t a hard R either. Not all of these movies have a happy ending, but each conveys a strong message of hope, resilience, sacrifice, justice, faith, and more. I also don’t include any R rated movies, until the very end where I name a select few of my favorites.
Side note: I purposefully left Pearl Harbor and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas out of this list, just because I felt for this post, both were really unrealistic without offering much in return.
Holocaust Movies for Middle School and High School
The Courageous Heart Of Irena Sendler
Irena Sendler, a small Polish Catholic social worker, rescued 2,500 Jewish children out of the Warsaw Ghetto during the Holocaust. As a social worker, Irena was able to legally enter the ghetto. With the help of an underground resistance network, she bravely used everything from toolboxes and potato sacks to ambulances to smuggle children out. Incredibly, every single child she brought out survived.
This classic Hallmark Hall of Fame film strays away from violence, sexual content, and profanity without downplaying anything. There is a torture scene towards the end that’s not graphic but very difficult to watch. Otherwise, this movie is well acted and well made, and is among my top favorites. Image credit: The Courageous Heart of Irena Sendler
Island On Bird Street
Inspired by the semi-autobiographical children’s novel, the Island on Bird Street. Alex is an 11 year old Jewish boy living in the Warsaw Ghetto. When he is suddenly separated from his uncle and father, he must find the courage and wits to survive on his own. This film is a great introduction into the Holocaust, since it is accurate, but not gruesome. It’s great for middle school, and is Dove family approved for ages 12+.
Run, Boy, Run
Ever since I had read the book Run, Boy Run – I knew I desperately wanted it turned into film. This movie did not disappoint. Based upon a true story, Run, Boy Run is the unbelievable story of a nine year old Jewish boy who survives the Holocaust on his own for two and a half years. With his innocent charm, and his newly learnt Catholic prayers, Jurek survives by living in the woods and relying on friendly Polish farmers to take him in for a night or two. During this time, he also loses his arm in a freak accident – and survives it all. It is also on Netflix! Image credit: Run, Boy, Run
Hidden In Silence
Based on a true story, teenager Stefania Podgorska and her younger sister shelter thirteen Jewish people in their attic for two and a half years. This film’s content is low and is Dove family approved for ages 12+. It is also pretty accurate based on everything I’ve researched.
Anne Frank: The Whole Story
There’s been a lot of movies about Anne Frank, but this is probably my favorite edition. Anne Frank was a young Dutch Jewish girl who lived in hiding for a couple years. Although she died in a concentration camp, her father survived the war and published her wartime diaries.
Life Is Beautiful
This classic Italian film won three Academy Awards, including Best Actor, Best Music and Best Foreign Language Film. The first part is an innocent romantic comedy, about a mischievous Italian man, Guido, who wins the heart of a miserably-engaged woman. The second half is set in a concentration camp, where Guido uses his wit and humor to protect his young son.
Life is Beautiful, known as La Vita E Bella is poignant, heart-warming, unforgettable, and probably my favorite film. It in no way makes fun of or downplays the Holocaust, but instead offers a story of hope and triumph of the human spirit. It is Dove family approved for ages 12+. There is no profanity/sexual content and all violence is offscreen. I’d also recommend watching it in Italian with English subtitles, even if foreign language films aren’t your favorite. Image credit: La Vita E Bella
No Place on Earth
In 1942, 38 Jewish men, women, and children made the drastic move to live in an underground cave in order to escape the Nazis. This documentary/docudrama follows where they lived for one and a half years, setting a record for the longest uninterrupted time underground in the process. The film’s site has a bunch of great resources for looking more into the story, and has an educator’s discussion guide.
The Hiding Place
Corrie ten Boom has inspired millions across the globe with her story of faith. The Hiding Place is based on her memoir filled with faith, hope, love, and light in the midst of history’s darkest days. Being older, it is less graphic than some modern Holocaust movies.
Return to the Hiding Place
Many know of Corrie ten Boom’s heroism during the Holocaust, but few know of her small group of teenage resistance fighters. Hans Poley is a talented physics student, who refuses to join the Nazi party, and instead becomes involved in the resistance movement. The film is obviously from a Christian perspective, however never felt preachy. You can view my full review here. Image credit: Return to the Hiding Place
Sophie Scholl: The Final Days
A group of university students at the University of Munich banded together to create the White Rose, a nonviolent resistance movement. Being accurate and true to fact, this German movie is far from a happy ending. These young heroes never flinch or renounce their beliefs, and are a steadfast inspiration for all Christians.
I don’t typically like including documentaries in movie lists, but I really enjoyed the storyline, and never felt like it was a “boring documentary.” British stockbroker Nicholas “Nicky” Winton rescued 669 Czech Jewish children during the Holocaust, by placing the children with British families right before the war broke out.
Decades later, Nicky was brought as a guest on an old TV show. At the end of the segment, the host asks everyone in the audience who was saved by Nicky to stand up. In the emotional second that followed, everyone in the crowd stood up. He has also been featured on 60 Minutes. Nicholas died in July 2015 at the incredible age of 106.
There were over 42 assassination attempts on Adolf Hitler’s life. Valkyrie shines a light on one close attempt by Germany army officer Claus von Stauffenberg. In July 1944, von Stauffenberg was part of a group that was planning to assassinate Hitler with a bomb, and immediately surrender to the Allies after his death.
Unfortunately, the plan failed and Hitler committed suicide nine months later, doing what so many others had attempted to do. Despite having an obviously predictable ending, the movie is fast paced without relying on soap-opera drama to get it through. Image credit: Valkyrie
Escape from Auschwitz
Over one million people, deemed “undesirable” by the Nazis, died at Auschwitz during the Holocaust. It was rare enough to survive, however escape was impossible. There were only around 800 known escape attempts, with only about 144 successful tries. I first read Rudolf Vrba’s story in The Auschwitz Escape by Joel C. Rosenberg.
Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler made their daring escape by hiding in a woodpile Because the Germans only searched for escape prisoners for 72 hours, they waited for three days before setting out on their actual escape. After 15 days of traveling across Poland, the two found freedom in Slovakia, and spread the news about the horrors of Auschwitz in the Vrba-Wetzler report. Eventually over 100,000 Jewish lives were saved by their incredible act of courage. Grab a study guide on PBS, and watch it for free on there too. (it’s a docudrama, not a movie)
Holocaust Movies for High Schoolers and Adults
These are some Holocaust movies that I really enjoyed, but that are rated R for violence and profanity. In each of the films, I felt the positives outweighed the negatives.
With an incredible, haunting soundtrack, The Pianist is the true story of one Jewish pianist’s survival during the Holocaust. With the help of a German soldier, Wladyslaw Szpilman miraculously survives. The beginning opens with him at his job, playing piano on the radio. The story follows through his struggles, from his freedoms being stripped away to hiding out during the remaining months of the war. Adrian Brody offers a brilliant performance, which earned him a well deserved Oscar.
It’s rated R for some brief but rough language and war violence. This film was nominated for 7 Academy Awards and won 3 of them. (PS If you’ve seen the movie before, watch the real Wladyslaw Szpilman play the movie’s theme, Nocturne in C# Minor by Chopin.) Image credit: The Pianist
Telling the story of history’s largest counterfeit operation, this German film won a much deserved Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film. Before WWII broke out, Salomon Sorowitsch was a career counterfeiter, who made a nice living by forging documents, passports and banknotes. After being arrested and sent to a concentration camp, Sorowitsch finds himself a part of Operation Bernhard, which was the Nazis’ counterfeit schemes.
First the group masters the British pound (even getting it approved by the Bank of England), and they work to counterfeit the American dollar. A battle of ethics evolves: in order to survive, they most show the Nazis progress. However, if they were to become successful, German would have a much higher chance of winning the war. Some parts were dramatized a bit, but it remains a unique story and a good film. You can read more about the true story in an interview with one of the counterfeiters.
After witnessing the murder of their parents and the mass murder of their village, the Jewish Bielski brothers fled to the woods as a safe haven from the Nazis. As other Jewish refugees (including women, children, and the elderly) fled to the forests, the Bielski’s find themselves the leaders of a growing a community, with ordinary citizens, children and the elderly. The ragtag group of partisans survived for a miraculous two years, with incredibly high survival rates. All in all, the Bielski partisans helped shelter 1,200 Jews during the war.
Based on the amazing biography, Defiance remains one of my favorite movies of all time. It’s a thrilling story of family, faith, honor, resilience and triumph of the human spirit. I personally don’t think it deserves its R rating, and the problematic content (with the exception of some profanity) falls into the PG-13 category. (I also think this summary doesn’t do the film justice) Image credit: Defiance
The Relief of Belsen
In April 1945, the British army stumbled across the horrendous aftermath of the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. There was 40,000 barely-living inmates, 10,000 unburied corpses scattered around the camp, and a major epidemic of typhus.
Faced with an impossible task, the British work to bury the dead, while rehabilitating the living with the very few resources they have. Much of the horror in The Relief of Belsen comes from real-life footage that blends with the reenactment of the British’s desperate attempt to save as many lives as possible.
I was hesitant to include this film at first. But, I came to the conclusion that overall, with the remote nearby to fast forward some sexual scenes, the good truly outweighs the bad. This Polish film was an Academy Award nominee, and is the true story of sewer worker (and petty thief) Leopold Socha. He originally begins hiding a group of desperate Jewish people in the sewers for a hefty profit.
As time continues, he begins to grow a conscious and continues risking his life for them, as he helped shelter them for 14 months. Ten of the twenty people survive. Sadly, a year after the war ended, Socha was killed in a freak accident. There’s some sexual content that can be skipped and there is violence and heartache that is extremely difficult to watch, but it is still a very great movie of one man’s character development. Image credit: In Darkness
Band of Brothers Episode 1×09: Why We Fight
The Band of Brothers miniseries is rated R for a reason, and is for mature audiences only. In this episode, as the war is drawing towards a close, Easy Company liberates a concentration camp. There is realistic violence and rough profanity, and (I think) this is the only episode with any sexual content in it (at the beginning). Each episode of Band of Brothers opens with the real-life members of Easy Company, and ends with facts.
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