Favorite Movies about WWII

There is never enough time to teach World War II. The amount of information students need to know is great but the amount of information students SHOULD know is even greater. And student interest is high especially when you can show a movie. Here I share my two favorite feature films, not documentaries.

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Downfall

If you can show the movie in its entirety I am confident your students will like it but this movie also works well for showing clips. This is a German film that was released in 2004 and depicts the final days of Hitler in the bunker. The movie was based on the books:

  • Inside Hitler’s Bunker by Joachim Fest
  • Until the Final Hour by Traudl Junge

First, I showed this film BEFORE we learned about the Holocaust. When I showed it we had learned about the rise of Nazism and fascism and students knew that the Holocaust had happened but we didn’t spend any time on how the Holocaust developed.

The film has been criticized for showing the human side of Hitler in the final days but as a fan of the movie I never saw that. I saw the downfall of the most evil man in the world and I often thought, “Why would anyone want to follow such a shallow, vain, selfish psychopath?” The reports of him losing his mind in the face of the German defeat doesn’t highlight glory to me but rather cowardice and his bizarre sense of privilege which begs the question of what exactly did people see in him? (Hindsight is 20/20 however)

The best discussion after the film came when we talked about the Goebbels family murder/suicide. It is graphic and very sad. Students tried to figure out how anyone could think so highly of anything that they would kill their children for it.

When students learned about the Holocaust and asked the inevitable questions, “how could you do this to people?” they were reminded that Goebbels and his wife murdered their own children. We were not dealing with normal leadership and their brainwashing went beyond normal parameters.

 

Sophie Scholl

I showed this after our WWII unit during a testing window. Students were able to watch the entire movie at once which helped them understand what was going on. This film is also in German.

Sophie Scholl is about a young German woman who was part of the White Rose resistance in Berlin. She was captured and executed before she was able to make a big impact but she is one of the few examples of resistance to the Nazi’s brainwashing tactics.

I was surprised to see the outcry of the injustice of her situation. We had a great discussion about the foundations of democracy and justice and how quickly and efficiently fascism would change the institutions and expectations.

I also emphasized that Sophie Scholl and others like her were not the norm. Very few people resisted the propaganda and I would encourage you to have that discussion in the classroom. What happened to Sophie Scholl is the example of why people do not resist the mob mentality.

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