The Zookeeper’s Wife

Based on the true story as recounted in Diane Ackerman’s 2007’s book of the same title, The Zookeeper’s Wife tells a fascinating mostly untold story about the director of the Warsaw Zoo, Jan Żabiński, and his wife Antonina, portrayed by Jessica Chastain, who were instrumental in saving many Jewish lives throughout World War II in the bombarded city of Warsaw, Poland. The movie begins showing the innocent goings-on of the zoo during the typical days before the Nazis invaded Poland and focuses mostly on Chastain’s character and her love of animals. Eventually, after it suffers catastrophic damage from German bombings in which many animals are killed, the zoo is shuttered by the new Nazi regime and becomes the testing grounds for Hitler’s so-called zoologist, played by the sinister Daniel Brühl, to breed a large extinct animal. Still living on the zoo’s property with their young son, the couple devise a plan to hide Jewish citizens from the infamous Warsaw Ghetto who would eventually be condemned to death in the extermination camps. Over the course of the war, over 300 men, women, and children are estimated to have been saved as a result of their heroic actions of sneaking Jews away from the ghetto and harboring them until they could be safely freed from German-occupied Poland. Like many Holocaust-themed films, at times it was very hard to watch, especially the scenes taking place within the inhumane Warsaw Ghetto and when the Nazis finally decided to liquidate all of its Jewish residents. What also struck me about the movie was the uncanny parallels between the zoo animals who were kept in cages yet very much loved by their zookeepers and the innocent Jewish victims who were deprived of their human rights and forced to live in cages of their own as if they were animals themselves. Overall, I found it to tell a very enlightening story that significantly contributes to the innumerable tales of horror and heroism during one of the darkest times in our history.

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