Based on a book of the same name by Diane Ackerman, The Zookeeper’s Wife follows the lives of Jan and Antonina Zabinski. The book itself was based on an unpublished diary from Antonina that chronicled her story. The couple were zookeepers in the Warsaw Zoo in Poland. The couple was exceptionally compassionate, even housing a number of animals in their personal villa within the grounds of the zoo. Their young son Ryszard also lived with them in their villa.
When Nazi Germany invaded Poland in 1939, their lives were turned completely upside down. The invaders bombed the city, nearly destroying the zoo and many of its animals. After the invasion, the zoo was officially closed, but the couple continued to reside on the property in their villa. The zoo was turned into a pig farm and a fur farm, but the couple continued to harbor animals within their villa.
The couple didn’t harbor only animals, however, they became involved with the underground resistance and sheltered people who were attempting to escape from the Nazi regime. They hid Jews who were escaping from the Warsaw ghetto in their villa and in the animal’s previous cages on the zoo property, passing them along throughout the resistance to safety. Many stayed within the walls of the zoo, inside the couple’s personal home as well as hiding out in the structures previously designated for the animals.
From 1939 to the Warsaw Uprising in 1944, the Zabinskis saved more than 300 people.
Jan fought in the uprising and was injured and taken captive by the Germans, however he was later returned to his family and served as the new head of the Warsaw Zoo when it reopened in 1949.
The movie was filmed in 2015, with Jessica Chastain starring as Anonina and Johan Heldenberg starring as Jan. It was directed by Niki Caro and is set to be released on March 31 of this year.