Next week The Zookeeper’s Wife will come to theaters and despite its theme, it is a pretty uplifting movie. I understand how important it is to be reminded every so often about the atrocities that happened during The Holocaust in World War II. However, when new movies come out regarding the topic I usually cringe because I go to movies to be entertained, not depressed. However, I have learned that while The Holocaust and the events that surround are not pleasant thoughts, Hollywood has created a number of great films that are able to show the harshness and yet still share some hope by the time the credits roll up the screen. In honor of The Zookeeper’s Wife’s opening, here are five of the best.
The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017)
Starring: Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton, Daniel Brühl
The Zookeeper’s Wife won’t open until March 30, but even so, the reviews for it so far have not been all that favorable which is a shame since I found this to be an incredible story and engaging movie. Based on the true events featured in the book of the same name by Diane Ackerman, this story takes place in Warsaw, Poland at a zoo of all places. It is here that the zoo owners, Jan and Antonina Żabiński, transported Jewish families to and from their home using the zoo grounds as their cover. After the soldier took over the park, Jan and Antonina converted the zoo into a pig farm. When Jan would go into town to pick up scraps for the pigs, he would smuggle a group of people on the truck at the same time and then bring them to his home. When they found homes for the families, they would truck them out the same way. About 300 people’s lives were saved because of their efforts.
The Hiding Place (1975)
Starring: Julie Harris, Jeannette Clift, Arthur O’Connell, and Robert Rietti
This movie is based on Corrie ten Boom’s autobiography of the same name recounting how her family hid Jews in their home in the Netherlands, how the family was found out years later, what Corrie and her sister Betsie had to do to survive in the concentration camps and Corrie’s eventual release. At first, The Hiding Place is actually quite pleasant to watch as Corrie’s Father and his wife entertain their Jewish friends, but the film gets grueling by the time the sisters arrive at the concentration camps, the movie ends on a sad but redemptive note. Knowing that Corrie was able to tell her story for many years afterward gives the movie the hope needed.
The Book Thief (2013)
Starring: Geoffrey Rush, Emily Watson, and Sophie Nélisse
The Book Thief is based on the fictional book of the same name by Markus Zusak. Unlike most other World War II movies, the story of The Book Thief is a more intimate one focusing on a little girl living with her adoptive German family. The girl’s kind stepfather teaches her how to read and she, in turn, reads to a Jewish refugee the family hides in the basement. The stepfather’s wife is more reserved with her affection for the girl, but in time, she warms up to her. The story is heartwarming without being too sweet and the atrocities of war, though kept at bay for most of the film, never completely fade away.
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In Darkness (2011)
Starring: Robert Wieckiewicz, Benno Fürmann, Maria Schrader, and Herbert Knaup
This Polish film was nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 84th Academy Awards and for good reason too. It’s yet another incredible tale of people risking their lives to take care of strangers hiding from the government. This time however, the Jewish families are forced to live in the large sewer under the Polish town of Lwow. Leopold Socha was a sewer worker and knew his way around the large pipes. He would bring food and supplies to the families living underground while they enduring living a life in darkness for years. At the first the families are disgusted by the rats sharing their living spaces, but soon, the families adapt. This film has it’s tough moments as well, but ends on a triumphant note when the Jewish families are free to live above ground. The best scene is when Leopold’s wife meets the people she has heard her husband talk about for the first time.
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Schindler’s List (1993)
Starring: Liam Neeson, Ben Kingsley, Ralpjh Fiennes, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagall, and Embeth Davidtz
Of course, this award-winning Steven Spielberg movie made the list and chances are good that you’ve already seen it. The movie was filmed in black and white to match the darkness of the story but the film’s greatest light is how German businessman, Oskar Schindler was able to hide Jewish people in plain sight by hiring them in his factories. The film goes back and forth from being depressing to encouraging, but perhaps the most bittersweet is the ending when Schindler laments that he could have saved more people.
[Featured Image by Focus Features]