Friday 8th May 2020 was the 75th anniversary of VE Day (Victory in Europe Day), the day on which Allied forces formally announced the surrender of Germany, which brought the Second World War to a close in Europe.

Under normal circumstances there would have been celebrations and events across the country, as we remember and honour the heroes of World War II and reflect on the sacrifices of a generation. Because of the COVID-19 restrictions all public events and gatherings had to be cancelled, but a two-minute silence, a re-broadcast of Winston Churchill's speech and an address from the Queen were among the national events that still took place.

Leeds Young Film have put together a collection of children's films about war and the Holocaust, which you may want to watch as a family. There are a couple of light-hearted films including Valiant and Sgt. Stubby: An Unlikely Hero, which are suitable for all ages, as well as some more serious films focusing on children's experiences during World War II ranging from the heart-warming Goodnight, Mister Tom, about a boy evacuated from London to the countryside to the Oscar winning tragi-drama Life is Beautiful, about a father using humour to shield his son from the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp.

Most of the films are not free-to-view so we have provided information as to where you can watch them and the cost to rent or buy on various streaming platforms. The animated documentary short films Children of the Holocaust are available to watch for free on the BBC's website and these are a fantastic way to introduce children (aged 8+) to the topic of World War II and the Holocaust, as each 5 minute short tells the story of a child's experience of the war, as told by real-life survivors.

Some of the films do have strong themes and scenes that may be upsetting / disturbing for young children so we have provided the BBFC classification for guidance and links to IMDB so you can read more about a film before choosing to watch it, in case you are concerned about the content.

Empire of the Sun

Amazon Prime / YouTube / Google Play - £3.49

Dir. Steven Spielberg, 1987, USA, 153 mins, Cert PG

Empire of the Sun

Empire of the Sun is an epic coming-of-age war film based on J. G. Ballard's semi-autobiographical novel of the same name. It was directed by Steven Spielberg and stars a young Christian Bale (Batman Begins trilogy).

A British boy is separated from his family at the start of World War II. Amidst shortage of food and no means of survival, he is eventually interned in a Japanese POW camp.

Spielberg considers it to be his most profound work on theme of "the loss of innocence."

Read more at IMDB here.

Grave of the Fireflies

Amazon - £3.49

Dir. Isao Takahata, 1988, Japan, 89 mins, Cert 12

Grave of the Fireflies

Grave of the Fireflies is a Japanese animated war film based on the 1967 semi-autobiographical short story by Akiyuki Nosaka and animated by Studio Ghibli.

Set in the city of Kobe, Japan, the film tells the story of two siblings, Seita and Setsuko, and their desperate struggle to survive during the final months of the Second World War. Their tale of survival is as heartbreaking as it is true to life. The siblings rely completely on each other and struggle against all odds to stay together and stay alive.

A grim and gripping meditation on the human cost of war, shown through the eyes of children.

Read more at IMDB here.

Life is Beautiful

YouTube / Google Play - £2.49

Dir. Roberto Benigni, 1997, Italy, 116 mins , Cert 12

Life is Beautiful

An Italian comedy-drama film directed by and starring Roberto Benigni who won the Best Actor Oscar for his performance in the film (as well as Best Foreign Language Film). The film was partially inspired by the book "In the End, I Beat Hitler", co-written by Benigni's father, who spent two years in a German labour camp during World War II.

When an open-minded Jewish bookshop owner and his son become victims of the Holocaust, he uses a perfect mixture of will, humour, and imagination to shield his son from the horrors of internment in a Nazi concentration camp.

This magnificent film gives us a glimpse of the Holocaust, but it is really about love, and the indomitable human spirit, even in the midst of inhumanity.

Read more at IMDB here.

Goodnight, Mister Tom

Amazon - £3.99 / Free on YouTube 

Dir. Jack Gold, 1998, UK, 108 mins, Cert PG

Goodnight Mister Tom

A made-for-TV movie based on the famous novel of the same name, which is still regularly taught in schools. Starring John Thaw and a host of other famous British actors, it is an underrated movie that shows the real reality, trials and tribulations people went through in World War II.

A curmudgeonly widower living in a small village takes in a nine-year-old evacuee from London. The widower soon realises that his young charge has been damaged both mentally and physically at the hands of his strict mother. He sets about undoing the damage, teaching the youngster to read, write and draw, but as his tenth birthday looms, the child is summoned back to the city. When Mr. Tom hears nothing from the boy after two weeks, he can endure the loneliness and worry no longer.

Read more at IMDB here.

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

Amazon Prime / YouTube / Google Play - £2.49

Dir. Mark Herman, 2008, UK / USA, 94 mins, Cert 12

The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas

This Holocaust drama relates the horror of a Nazi extermination camp through the eyes of two 8-year-old boys; Bruno (a young Asa Butterfield), the son of the camp's Nazi commandant, and Shmuel, a Jewish inmate. Their forbidden friendship across the fence has startling and unexpected consequences.

A quietly effective, tastefully crafted, and ultimately devastating portrait of the Holocaust as seen through one boy's eyes. Criticised by some for its factual inaccuracies and for focusing on the tragedy of a Nazi family, the film remains a powerful and haunting family film that is affecting and an important reminder of the horrors of the Holocaust.

Read more at IMDB here.

Children of the Holocaust - FREE

Dir. Zane Whittingham, 2015, UK, 60 mins (6 x 5 min animations + 6 x 5 min interviews), Cert PG

Children of the Holocaust

Children of the Holocaust is a series of six short animated interviews, recounting the experiences of children who were affected by events leading up to and during World War II, as told by living survivors. Each short animation is accompanied by an interview with each of the survivors.

Leeds Young Film Festival was very proud to screen the award-winning animation in 2016 and to welcome both the filmmakers from Fettle animation, as well as two of the survivors from World War II, whose stories are told in the episodes. It was fascinating to hear from people who were just children when war broke out and the young audience were deply moved by their stories and incredibly keen to hear more about their experiences.

These short bite-size films are a perfect way to introduce children to the history of World War II and the Holocaust and are a valuble aid to parents and teachers to help explain the terrible atrocities of war.

You can watch all six episodes and the accompanying interviews with the survivors here.

Dad's Army

ITV, Fri 8 May, 8:30pm

Dir. Oliver Parker, 2016, UK, 98 mins, Cert PG

Dad's Army

Anyone wanting a light-hearted respite from the grim realities of war and the Holocaust can check out the 2016 comedy Dad's Army, based on the BBC sitcom that ran from 1968 - 1977 about the adventures of an ineffective and incompetent British Home Guard platoon.

As WWII nears its climax, the dipping morale of the Home Guard is revived at the arrival of a glamorous journalist. The excitement reaches its pinnacle when they learn that there is a spy among them.

Filmed in Yorkshire, including scenes shot in Leeds, the film has a remarkable cast of British actors that recreate the sense of silliness and tap into the nostalgia of the original TV series.

Read more at IMDB here.

Sgt Stubby: An Unlikely Hero

Amazon Prime / YouTube / Google Play - £5.99

Dir. Richard Lanni, 2018, USA, 84 mins, Cert PG

Seargeant Stubby An Unlikely Hero

Screening in LYFF 2018, this animated adventure tells the story of the real-life Sergeant Stubby, a stray Boston Terrier who became a hero during World War I.

A young U.S. Army recruit befriends a little dog that wanders into the training grounds of Yale University and names him Stubby. Despite lacking formal military working dog training, Stubby and his human companion find themselves in the trenches of the Western Front in France.

Stubby's combat service includes sniffing incoming gas attacks, finding wounded allies in No Man's Land, and even catching a German infiltrator in the trenches. Back home, Stubby's exploits were retold in newspapers across the country.

For his bravery and valour, Stubby is still recognised as the most decorated dog in American history and the first canine ever promoted to the rank of Sergeant in the United States Army.

Read more at IMDB here.

The Windermere Children

Amazon Prime / YouTube / Google Play - £1.99

Dir. Michael Samuels, 2020, UK / Germany, 88 mins, Cert 12

The Windermere Children

Released earlier this year on BBC2, this drama is based on the real-life experience of child survivors of the Holocaust.

In August 1945, 300 traumatised Jewish children, survivors of Nazi concentration camps, were brought to the Lake District. The film follows the children and staff of a camp set up on the Calgarth Estate in Troutbeck Bridge, near Lake Windermere, where the survivors were helped to rehabilitate, rebuild their lives, and integrate into the British society.

The film is a stark, moving and ultimately redemptive story of the bonds these children made with one another, and of how the friendships forged at Windermere became a lifeline to a fruitful future. You can find out more about the film on the BBC website and there is more information about the real Windermere children here.

Read more at IMDB here.

Jojo Rabbit

Amazon Prime - £9.99

Dir. Taika Waititi, 2019, New Zealand / USA / Czech Republic, 108 mins, Cert 12

Jojo Rabbit

Probably the most controversial film on the list, Jojo Rabbit was a huge audience favourite at Leeds International Film Festival last year and winner of Best Adapted Screenplay Oscar. Taika Waititi's darkly satirical comedy drama about a young Hitler Youth member portrays both the horrors and absurdities of war, shown through the eyes of a child.

Jojo is a lonely German boy who discovers that his single mother is hiding a Jewish girl in their attic. Aided only by his imaginary friend, Adolf Hitler (played by Waititi himself), Jojo must confront his blind nationalism as World War II continues to rage on.

A warm hug of a movie that just so happens to have a lot of important things to say, succeeding by balancing silly moments with an acknowledgment of real-life horrors. The comedy is replaced by darker moments as the film progresses but still manages to deal with an important subject in an irreverant way.

Read more at IMDB here.