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The Holocaust Now and Then


The Holocaust refers to the state-sponsored bureaucratic and systematic murder and persecution of a huge number of Jews by the so-called Nazi regime as well as its allies (Sterling, 2005). In fact, the number of Jews who were persecuted and murdered during the Holocaust equals six million people. The term Holocaust originated from a Greek word implying ‘sacrifice by fire’ (Sterling, 2005). The Nazi regime assumed that Jews were inferior while the Germans were a superior race. Based on such assumption, the Nazi regime believed that the Jews were a threat to the racial community of Germans (Lieberman, 2013). Apart from the Jews, other groups of people were also targeted by the German authorities during the Holocaust era. These groups included the disabled, the Russians and poles among others. These groups were murdered and persecuted based on the same assumptions that they were inferior population. Additionally, other groups of people were also persecuted on behavioral, ideological and political grounds.

The Holocaust has been depicted in several movies. These movies try to reconstruct the atrocities encountered by the Jewish population during the Holocaust. Life is Beautiful and The Boy in the Striped Pajamas are two such movies with the background of the Holocaust. The former was produced in 1997 while the latter was produced in the year 2008. This research paper seeks to compare and analyze how the two movies depict the effect the Holocaust had on Jewish characters.


Life is Beautiful

Life is Beautiful is an Italian movie that was directed by Roberto Benigni. Produced in 1997, the movie has made a great contribution to increasing the body of literature regarding the Holocaust. It is widely believed that the movie was inspired by the life story of the main actor’s family. In this regard, his family survived the atrocities of the Nazi regime. The movie is cast in the 1930 setting, before, during and after to the Holocaust (Maslin, 1998). It begins when Guido Orefice left home for the city to live with his uncle. While living in the city, Guido fell in love with Dora, a schoolteacher.

From the beginning of the movie, the protagonist treats the atrocities that people underwent during the Holocaust as a joke. This was necessary in order to prevent his son from facing the harsh realities during the time. The movie portrays the shifting political climate that occurred in Italy during the Holocaust. In this regard, the protagonist often imitates the National Fascist Party’s members with their racist reasoning. Here, the movie underscores racism that permeated during the Nazi regime. The Nazis were racists as they believed that the Germans were superior to all other racial communities, including the Jewish one (Lieberman, 2013).

Racial anti-Semitism was an integral part of the Nazi regime, as it is depicted in this movie. According to Dunlap (2011), racial anti-Semitism emerged in Europe out of the irrational logic by the Nazi regime that race and biology are critical forces characterizing the human history. In addition, the Nazi regime believed that various political movements, including communism and Marxism, reflected racially based, dangerous Jewish intellectualism. During the reign of the Nazi regime (1933-1945), the Nazis mandated all the citizens to prove their Aryan, non-Semitic origin via their family tree (Gritsch, 2012). In 1935, the Nazis enacted so-called Nuremberg Laws, which codified the definition of “Jewishness” based on biological theories (Dunlap, 2011; Gritsch, 2012).

The movie also depicts the murder and persecution of the Jewish population during the Holocaust. This is manifested in the movie as the protagonist tries to shield his son from the true situation at a concentration camp. In this regard, the protagonist explains his son that the concentration camp was a kind of game in which the winner gets a tank as a prize. Through this explanation one gets to know that people at the concentration camp experienced death, sickness and misery. The movie also depicts starvation, diseases as well as maltreatment of the Jews in gas cylinders (Lieberman, 2013).

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas is a historical movie that recounts the atrocities of the Nazi regime during the Second World War. The movie was produced in 2008, just like the previous one. The movie begins when Bruno (an eight-year old boy) realized that his family was about to relocate to upcountry after his father was promoted. The movie recounts the political climate that existed during the Holocaust. For instance, Bruno is taught on anti-Semitism propaganda by a tutor named Herr Liszt. In the regard, the movie reflects the irrational anti-Semitism ideology that was held against the Jewish characters by the Nazi regime. Racial theories were also widespread in Europe during the Holocaust. Notably, racial anti-Semitism was used as a political instrument by the Nazi regime during the 1930s (Yad Vashem, 2015). At that time, the Jews were considered a racially inferior population, and the Nazi regime held false biological concepts that the essence of Jewishness was biological.

Additionally, the movie depicts the segregation of the Jewish population that occurred during the Holocaust. Here, Bruno encounters a concentration camp after sneaking from home. The camp is fenced with an electric barbed wire in order to protect the Jews from interacting with other people. Gurock (2013) acknowledges that there was isolation of the Jews by putting them in so-called ghettos. Ghettos were established during the Holocaust to segregate the Jews either temporarily or permanently. The Jewish population was concentrated in more than 1,000 ghettos that were established by the Nazi regime during the Second World War (Gurock, 2013). The process of segregating the Jewish population by the Nazi regime started in 1933, and it became a fundamental element of the Germany’s policy (Michman, 2011).

Moreover, the movie also depicts maltreatment of the Jewish people during the Holocaust. In this regard, starvation that the Jews faced in concentration camps is manifested in the movie by Bruno’s friend called Shmuel who lives in the concentration camp. Bruno keeps on providing food for Shmuel who starves in the camp. The nutritional starvation of the Jewish population at the Nazi concentration camps is one form of violence. As a result, Buggeln (2015) asserts that most of the inmates died of disease and hunger. The inmates were often threatened in order to prevent them from acquiring food or escaping. Furthermore, the movie depicts the murder as well as persecution of the Jewish characters in gas cylinders. This is revealed through Bruno, who wears the prisoner’s outfits and sneaks into the concentration camp to join his friend, Shmuel. A number of authors documented the murder and persecution of the Jewish population at the Nazi concentration camps in their works (Longerich, 2010; Wachsmann & Caplan, 2009).

Comparison between the two Movies

Although the two movies were cast in different time periods, they have various aspects in common. Similar to Life is Beautiful, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas recounts atrocities uncounted by the Jewish population during the Nazi regime. In both movies, these atrocities are revealed through young boys. In Life is Beautiful, the main actor (protagonist) is trying to hide the real situation at the Nazi concentration camp from his son. As a result, one gets to learn of violence and maltreatment that the Jewish underwent during the Holocaust. Similarly, in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, violence and maltreatment of the inmates is revealed through an eight-year old boy. The boy sneaks into a concentration camp only to realize the sad reality in the camp. Moreover, in a like manner, both movies depict the issue of racial anti-Semitism. Similarly, both movies depict murder and persecution of the Jewish population, starvation, disease as well as misery suffered during the Holocaust.

However, there are some differences between the two movies. In Life is Beautiful, the protagonist used comedy while trying to make his son believe that the concentration camp was actually kind of game. On the contrary, The Boy in the Striped Pajamas does not use comedy in the historical documentation of the Holocaust era but rather portrays actual horror experienced by the Jewish characters. Nevertheless, in Life is Beautiful, the main characters are depicted as victims of the Holocaust. In this case, a father and his son are the inmates of the concentration camps. The movie thus gives depicts the sad reality experienced by the Jewish characters in the Nazi concentration camps. Despite the fact that the Benigni uses comedy, the horror experienced by the inmates comes in the mainstream. This movie perhaps wanted to show that such life in the Nazi concentration camps was usual for some Jewish families. The parents in these camps might have devised strategies to hide their children from the sad reality.

On the contrary, in The Boy in the Striped Pajamas the main characters are not inmates. They belong to the non-Jewish racial group, except for an eight-year old inmate Jewish boy. By contrast to the previous movie where the father is trying to hide his son from the sad reality, in the film The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, the father is trying to prevent his son from interacting or even seeing the inmates at the Nazi concentration camps. In this case, the movie was perhaps intendment to explore the perceptions of the Germans and the Nazi regime towards the Jewish characters. Indeed, this depicted the segregation of the Jewish characters. However, the son rebel and goes to the Nazi camp to befriend his age mate Jewish boy. This illustrates naivety of both Jewish and non-Jewish children. These children knew nothing about the Holocausts and had no boundaries when it came to desegregation.


This research paper analyzed two movies regarding the manner in which they depict the Holocaust. The Holocaust is the murder and persecution of the Jewish population by the Nazi regime. Indeed, the Holocaust is the saddest part of history for the Jewish population. It resulted in the death of a great number of people. Notably, the Jews were put in concentration camps with harsh living conditions. Both movies recount the events that occurred during the Holocaust in almost the same way. These include racial anti-Semitism, starvation, murder and other kinds of maltreatments to the Jews. These atrocities were perpetrated by the Nazi regime based on irrational and false biological theories. While it is a sad part of the history to remember, Holocaust should serve as a warning to the current and future regimes against perpetrating atrocities against its people, irrespective of their color, race or ethnicity.