Beginning in 1939, set in Warsaw, Poland, The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the true story of Antonina Zabinski and her husband, Dr. Jan Zabinski, and how they rescued and saved the lives of more than 300 Jewish people from the Warsaw Ghetto throughout the years of Nazi occupation within Poland.
At the beginning of the movie, we see the Warsaw Zoo flourishing under Jan’s stewardship and Antonina’s care. As an animal lover, I could appreciate what a special woman Antonina was, and there were some beautiful scenes between her and various animals within the zoo. We are also introduced to Lutz Heck, a zoologist from the Berlin Zoo. He becomes somewhat enamoured with Antonina after witnessing her interactions with the animals. Just as we’re all feeling warm-hearted, the Nazis invade Poland, bomb the zoo, and establish the Warsaw Ghetto.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is an exceptional movie, but it’s harrowing. We have the zoo bombing for instance, which was distressing to watch, all of those animals in their enclosures with no way at all of escaping. Then later, when the Nazis move into the zoo to establish it as a base, they shoot what animals are left, with the exception of the prized ones, because who’s in charge now? Yes, Lutz Heck, who has been appointed chief zoologist for the Reich, and he relocates the prized breeds to his zoo in Berlin. Scenes from the ghetto are just as harrowing, one of which I found quite traumatic. I stopped the movie several times, I was just too overcome. Was all this too much? Not necessarily. My reactions were fairly standard for me. I am a highly empathetic person. It’s a challenge sometimes. It’s why I rarely watch movies like this when they’re in the cinema. Better for me to just watch from home at my own pace. WWII movies are particularly difficult as I have direct family connections to the war in Europe and my grandfather disclosed some of these experiences to me before his death. While much of the movie pained me, it was extraordinarily good. An authentic depiction of a horrendous history.
As I mentioned above, the Zabinskis rescued and smuggled more than 300 people out of the Warsaw Ghetto with only two casualties. They hid them in the zoo and sent them on to safety through resistance networks. It’s an incredible story, another example of outrage in motion, where ordinary people do extraordinary things in the name of humanity. The Zookeeper’s Wife is based on the non-fiction book of the same title, written by the poet and naturalist Diane Ackerman, who drew heavily on the unpublished diary of Antonina Żabińska. I have a copy but haven’t read it yet. After now seeing the movie, I’ll be making sure I set aside some time to read it in the near future.
I highly recommend this movie and thank Claire Holderness for recommending it to me.