Holocaust drama features couple using zoo as haven

By Isabelle Zhu

The Zookeeper’s Wife follows Antonina and Jan Zabinski’s lives after German soldiers kill their animals and they begin to hide people from the Warsaw Ghetto in their zoo.
Photo courtesy Focus Features

The Zookeeper’s Wife takes on an effective look at the Holocaust of the Jews during World War II through a zoo in Poland. 

Antonina and Jan Zabinski, played by Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh, were zookeepers when Germany invaded Poland in 1939. The Germans killed most of the animals. Now, the zoo has no animals in it.

With their animals either dead or undergoing Nazi carnage, Jan and Antonina fill the zoo with all kinds of people, children and adults.

They help people from the Warsaw Ghetto into the zoo, hiding them in a garbage truck to keep them concealed from the Nazis who want them dead. They feed and entertain them, trying to make their lives as normal as possible.

Those hiding cannot make a sound in the daytime. They hide in the cage under the basement. But after sunset, Antonina plays the piano for them, and the people come out. They eat, drink and pray together, just like a family, but the family includes cats, rabbits and dogs.

As a member of a Polish underground group, Jan sneaks into the Ghetto and rescues as many people as he can. As a zookeeper, he has a variety of methods to distract.

Jan befriends a German officer who is interested in beetles. The German officer comes to his basement to see the beetles while people are hiding there. Later, Jan occupies the officer with beetle collections while he takes Jews from the Ghetto.

Eventually, Jan must battle the Germans and leave Antonina to take care of the house and the zoo with their guests’ help.

The film can make people feel at times nervous and angry, and at other times warm and hopeful.

Although Americans can’t easily go to the Warsaw Zoo, they can go to the cinema to see how Jan and Antonina help Jews survive at the end of the World War II.