5 Holocaust Movies to Watch on International Holocaust Remembrance Day

"Never forget" isn't just about remembering. It's about taking action to prevent it from happening again.

Universal Pictures

January 27 is International Holocaust Remembrance Day, a day to commemorate and reflect upon the horrors of the Holocaust.

The phrase "Never forget" is oft repeated in reference to the Holocaust, but sometimes its real meaning seems lost. As fascist sentiments bubble beneath America's surface and our president and Republican party continue to dismantle the fabric of democracy, it's important to understand that "Never forget" isn't just about remembering. It's about taking action to prevent that thing from happening again. Of course, watching a movie about the Holocaust isn't exactly taking action, but sometimes great cinema can provide a lens into what we have at stake.

Schindler's List

Schindler's list Universal Pictures

Undoubtedly the single most well-known Holocaust film of all time, Schindler's List remains relevant for good reason. The movie recounts the true story of Oskar Schindler, a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party who took it upon himself to save over 1000 Polish Jews by employing them in his factories. Primarily shot in black and white, Schindler's List presents an unrelenting view of the Nazi party's brutality, using jarring visuals (like the girl in the red dress) to evoke emotion and convey how obvious the horrors were to high-level officials. But at its core, the beauty of Schindler's List is the message of hope, the notion that the actions of good people can prevail even in the face of unspeakable evil.

The Pianist

the Pianist Focus Features

Based on Władysław Szpilman's autobiography of the same name, The Pianist portrays the unlikely friendship between Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist and composer, and Wehrmacht officer Wilm Hosenfeld, a Nazi disillusioned with his party's ideologies. Hosenfeld, captivated by Szpilman's piano expertise, makes it his mission to hide Szpilman and provide him with food and supplies. Much like Schindler's List, The Pianist is a harrowing portrayal of the Holocaust with a glimmer of hope and humanity amidst the darkness.

Life Is Beautiful

life is beautiful Miramax Films

Infusing a Holocaust drama with comedic elements might sound like a recipe for disaster, but Life Is Beautiful proves that in the right hands, comedy can be just as effective at evoking an emotional response as tragedy. Inspired by Holocaust survivor Rubino Romeo Salmonì's book, In the End, I Beat Hitler, the movie revolves around the relationship between Guido Orefice, an Italian-Jewish bookshop owner, and his young son, Giosué. In order to shield Giosué from the harsh realities of living in a Nazi concentration camp, Guido turns survival into an imaginative game. Therein, tragedy and humor go hand-in-hand, ultimately conveying the resolve and selflessness of a parent's love.

Sophie's Choice

Sophie's choice Universal Pictures

Often considered one of Meryl Streep's crowning performances, Sophie's Choice tells the story of Sophie Zawistowski, a Polish-Jewish immigrant living in Brooklyn after escaping Auschwitz. Throughout the course of the story, it is revealed that Sophie was forced to choose between the lives of her two children at Auschwitz. While the movie doesn't actually take place in the internment camp, Sophie's Choice attempts to portray the lasting emotional damage that survivors carry with them throughout their lives, along with the sad reality that survival after trauma can sometimes be a death sentence all the same.

Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds The Weinstein Company

Dwelling on the Holocaust can be a painful endeavor, especially for those whose family histories are forever tied to Nazi atrocities. While remembering and mourning is important, celebrating the defeat of Nazis can be incredibly cathartic, too. That's where Quentin Tarantino's Inglourious Basterds comes in. Sure, it's not historically accurate, but any movie about a team of badass Jewish soldiers killing Nazis is well worth watching. Remember, there's a reason that even today, nobody bats an eye when self-proclaimed Nazis get punched in the face.


Nazi-Chic: The Aesthetics of Fascism

Let's take a look at Nazi-inspired fashion.

Villains always have the best outfits.

From Darth Vader's polished black space armor to The Joker's snazzy purple suit, bad guys always seem to show up their protagonists in the fashion department.

Way more handsome than Batman.

But could there possibly be a real world equivalent to the type of over-the-top villain fashion often found in fiction? It would have to be sleek and imposing, austere and dangerous. Probably black.

Maybe it's him. Maybe it's fascist ideology.

Oh, right.

Let's call a spade a spade. From an aesthetic standpoint, the Nazi SS outfit is very well-designed. The long coat tied around the waist with a buckle portrays a slim, sturdy visage. The leather boots and matching cap look harsh and powerful. The emblem placements on the lapel naturally suggest rank and authority. And the red armband lends a splash of color to what would otherwise be a dark monotone. If the Nazi uniform wasn't so closely tied with the atrocities they committed during WWII, it wouldn't seem out of place at Fashion Week. Perhaps not too surprising, considering many of the uniforms were made by Hugo Boss.

Pictured: A real thing Hugo Boss did.

Of course, today, Nazi uniform aesthetics are inseparable from the human suffering doled out by their wearers. In most circles of civilized society, that's more than enough reason to avoid the garb in any and all fashion choices. But for some, that taboo isn't a hindrance at all–if anything, it's an added benefit.

As a result, we have Nazi chic, a fashion trend centered around the SS uniform and related Nazi imagery.

History of Nazi Chic

For the most part, Nazi chic is not characterized by Nazi sympathy. Rather, Nazi chic tends to be associated with counterculture movements that view the use of its taboo imagery as a form of shock value, and ironically, anti-authoritarianism.

The movement came to prominence in the British punk scene during the mid-1970s, with bands like the Sex Pistols and Siouxsie and the Banshees displaying swastikas on their attire alongside other provocative imagery.

Very rotten, Johnny.

Around this time, a film genre known as Nazisploitation also came to prominence amongst underground movie buffs. A subgenre of exploitation and sexploitation films, Naziploitation movies skewed towards D-grade fare, characterized by graphic sex scenes, violence, and gore. Plots typically surrounded female prisoners in concentration camps, subject to the sexual whims of evil SS officers, who eventually escaped and got their revenge. However, the most famous Nazisploitation film, Ilsa, She Wolf of the SS, flipped the genders.

The dorm room poster that will ensure you never get laid.

Ilsa was a female SS officer and the victims were men. She spent much of the movie wearing her Nazi uniform in various states, sexually abusing men all the while. As such, Ilsa played into dominatrix fantasies. The movie was a hit on the grindhouse circuit, inspiring multiple sequels and knock-offs and solidifying Nazi aesthetics as a part of the BDSM scene.

Since then, Nazi chic fashion has been employed by various artists, from Madonna to Marilyn Manson to Lady Gaga, and has shown up in all sorts of places from leather clubs to character designs in video games and anime.

Lady Gaga looking SS-uper.

Nazi Chic in Asia

Nazi chic has taken on a life of its own in Asia. And unlike Western Nazi chic, which recognizes Nazism as taboo, Asian Nazi chic seems entirely detached from any underlying ideology.

A large part of this likely has to do with the way that Holocaust education differs across cultures. In the West, we learn about the Holocaust in the context of the Nazis committing horrific crimes against humanity that affected many of our own families. The Holocaust is presented as personal and closer to our current era than we might like to think. It is something we should "never forget." Whereas in Asia, where effects of the Holocaust weren't as prominent, it's simply another aspect of WWII which, in and of itself, was just another large war. In other words, Nazi regalia in Asia might be viewed as simply another historical military outfit, albeit a particularly stylish one.

In Japan, which was much more involved with WWII than any other Asian country, Nazi chic is usually (but not always) reserved for villainous representations.


That being said, J-Pop groups like Keyakizaka46 have publicly worn Nazi chic too, and the phenomena isn't limited to Japan.

In South Korea, Indonesia, and Thailand, Nazi imagery has shown up in various elements of youth culture, completely void of any moral context. For instance, in Indonesia, a Hitler-themed fried chicken restaurant opened in 2013. And in Korea, K-Pop groups like BTS and Pritz have been called out for propagating Nazi chic fashion. Usually such incidents are followed by public apologies, but the lack of historical understanding makes everything ring hollow.


So the question then: is Nazi chic a bad thing?

The answer is not so black and white.

On one hand, seeing Nazi chic on the fashion scene may dredge up painful memories for Holocaust survivors and those whose family histories were tainted. In this light, wearing Nazi-inspired garb, regardless of intent, seems disrespectful and antagonistic. Worse than that, it doesn't even seem like a slight against authority so much as a dig at actual victims of genocide.

But on the other hand, considering the fact that even the youngest people who were alive during WWII are edging 80, "forgetting the Holocaust" is a distinct possibility for younger generations. In that regard, perhaps anything that draws attention to what happened, even if it's simply through the lens of "this outfit should be seen as offensive," might not be entirely bad. This, compounded by the fact that Nazi chic is not commonly associated with actual Nazi or nationalistic sentiments, might be enough to sway some people–not necessarily to wear, like, or even appreciate its aesthetics, but rather to understand its place within counterculture.

Ultimately, one's views on Nazi chic likely come down to their own personal taste and sensibilities. For some, Nazi chic is just a style, an aesthetic preference for something that happens to be mired in historical horror. For others, the shadow of atrocity simply hangs too strong.


True Crime to Stream on Netflix All Winter Long

Survive the cold with a cold case or two.

With Bill Cosby feeling no remorse, Jeffrey Epstein definitely not killing himself, and the Trump's impeachment revealing more and more corruption as time goes on, it seems we have enough true crime to go around.

However, the winter is long and our thirst for justice is unquenchable. Netflix remains an immutable force in most of our daily lives, regardless of Disney+ instigating the streaming wars, which may be the end of civil society—or maybe just reading. The point is that humans shouldn't have to leave their houses during the winter, so when you can steal a few precious hours snuggling up with your screen, you should spend your time wisely, watching evil men be taken down by the system and people coming together to call for justice.

"The Devil Next Door"

If you haven't checked out this documentary series about John Demjanjuk, then you probably haven't heard of this Cleveland grandfather who was suddenly facing trial in Israel. Decades after World War II, he faces accusations of being an infamously cruel Nazi concentration camp guard named "Ivan the Terrible."