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Zookeepers Wife

Jonathan Hinshaw - Sunday, April 09, 2017

Saw a good movie recently, based on the dairies of real life zoo keepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski.  They ran the zoo in Warsaw, the film is based on events from 1939-1946.  Starts out with Jessica Chastain (Zero Dark Thirty, The Help) playing the zookeepers wife, Johan Heldenbergh (lots of foreign TV) is her husband.  They have a nifty zoo, where the lion cubs sleep with their family, a camel runs alongside Jessica on her morning ride through the property, and many of the animals are up close and personal with the zoo attendees.  All this is changed when the Germans begin to drop bombs on Warsaw, and the zoo is hit hard. 

Enter Dan Bruhl (Inglourious Bastards, Bourne Ultimatum) playing Hitler’s head of the Berlin Zoo.  He knows of the Zabinski zoo and wants to help save some of the animals.  His version of saving them is to ship them off to Berlin, safe from the bombs his boss has ordered dropped.  At first he seems to be a friend, but later he takes on a sinister side, hitting on Jessica who finds herself in an awkward place.  If she turns him down, he can and will retaliate.  She loves her husband, but understands the Germans are in control.  Dan moves out a large number of animals, then begins to destroy ones left, since the war has made food a scarce commodity.     

So Jan and Antonia take this in stride; moving animals into cages, they empty out much of the storage space under their large home, complete with tunnels into some of the outdoor pens.  Soon an idea takes shape and form, they will raise pigs for the German army.  They will feed the pigs garbage from the areas where the Jews were held in the city.  Jan has a truck and goes into the city, past the walled areas where guards watched the coming and going of each person to be sure no Jews got out.  On a whim he decides to help when he witnesses the Germans taking advantage of a young Jewish girl.  Soon he is smuggling out Jews on a regular basis.  By their dairies, the Zabinskis smuggled out 300 Jews before the end of the war, hiding them in the unused animal pens under their home.   

The story is great, moves along fast.  Jan Zabinski soon joins up with the underground, fighting in the city against the German army.  They have a lot of Jews hiding in their home, they must stay quiet during the day, since the Germans have soldiers posted at the Zoo.  So it is a constant struggle to keep the kids quiet until late in the evening when the guards have left and Jessica plays the all clear on the piano. 

To be completely candid, there were moments that were tough to watch, many Jews were killed and moved to concentration camps and animals were destroyed by the Germans, not easy to watch.  But to see the courage of the Zabinskis during this time of war is amazing.  They did not hesitate to open their home, even though if discovered they would have been shot as traitors.  The end is great, shares the follow up story, what happened next.  We’ll go with 3.5 Elephants.  Watch how good Jessica is with a baby elephant, it will bless you!    

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