The story of a Polish woman who sheltered close to 300 Jews during World War II is due to be released March 31 as an already acclaimed Hollywood film, titled “The Zookeeper’s Wife.”
Pete Hammond, writing for Deadline Hollywood, says Director Niki Caro (Whale Rider, McFarland USA, North Country) and screenwriter Angela Workman, based on the memoirs of the Zookeeper’s wife Antonina Zabinski, have “crafted an inspiring and uniquely humane film that stays with you long after you leave the theater.”
Based on the non-fiction book of the same name by Diane Ackerman, the film stars Jessica Chastain, Johan Heldenbergh, Michael McElhatton and Daniel Brühl.
“The Zookeeper’s Wife” tells the story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw zoo, and his wife Antonina, who hid some 300 Jews who had escaped from the ghetto, as well as resistance fighters in their villa on the zoo grounds during much of the war.
The Zabinskis died in the 1970s. Yad Vashem has recognized them as Righteous Among the Nations.
“My father knew that it wouldn’t occur to the Germans that so many people could be hiding in a place like this with open windows and no curtains,” the zoo couple’s daughter Teresa Zabinska, 73, told AFP.
“My father always said that’s what a decent person should do,” she added.
Some hid in animal cages, other in the villa’s basement. Some were “adopted” as fake family members or service staff.
When a Nazi soldier got too close for comfort, Antonina would play an operetta on the piano, signaling the approaching danger. The stowaways would then rush through an underground tunnel or hide in a double-sided wardrobe.
To hide their sheltered Jews from their housekeeper, the couple would order enormous meals which they pretended to consume all by their lonesome. In her 1968 memoir, Antonina wrote that the suspicious woman would often grumble, “I can’t believe how much they eat! I’ve never seen anything like it!”