The Zookeeper’s Wife tells the true story Antonina Zabinski (Jessica Chastain) as she and her husband, Jan Zabinski (Johan Heldenbergh) rescue Jewish People from the ghettos in Poland to hide in their zoo. After the invasion of Poland by the Nazi party, Antonina and Jan’s zoo is bombed before being taken over by Nazi soldiers. After hiding one of their Jewish friends, they plead the government to be able to keep their zoo to raise pigs to feed the soldiers. In order to feed the pigs, they must collect scraps from the ghettos. While doing so, Jan hides people from the ghetto in the truck under the food scraps until the troops have left their house and they can safely hide in the basement of the zoo. Over the course of the war, Antonina and Jan rescued and hid over 300 Jewish people, with only two fatalities, not due to their own actions. They would also take in and change the appearance of people, such as dyeing their hair, before releasing them back into Warsaw.
I also think it is worth mentioning that while the film may be based on Antonina, it was originally Jan’s idea to take in people, while Antonina was not as sure at first. Over time, she became close to many of them, and took them in as if they were her own. She would play her piano to tell the everyone in the basement whether they should hide, or whether it was safe to come upstairs.
The Zookeeper’s Wife is for mature 13 year olds and above, as the movie does nt hold back and is very honest about what happened during the war throughout eastern Europe. There is also a complicated love story between Antonina, Jan, and Hitler’s head zookeeper, Lutz Heck, (Daniel Brühl) That being said, the movie did contain intense violence, cruelty, and mild nudity.
However, I do think the film is important to teach people about the impacts and events of World War II, while still showcasing a family who sacrificed everything for people they knew needed it most. The movie was based upon the book “The Zookeeper’s Wife” by Diane Ackerman, as well as Antonina Zabinski’s diary entries from the time.
While the film is very intense, I would recommend it to anyone with a solid understanding of World War II, as the film requires many inference based references.