The Zookeeper’s Wife

I read the book ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife,” by Diane Ackerman, some time ago and had forgotten much of the detail.  But, the movie of the same name is a very well-directed and beautiful version that retains all the essential elements.  Dr. Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina ran the Warsaw Zoo.  When the Nazis attacked Poland in 1939 at the start of WWII the Zoo was decimated.  After some time the Zabinskis use the facilities that formerly held the animals to hide Jews.  True and very symbolic.  In this way they saved the lives of several hundred Jews.

I have two criticisms of the film, it shows the Nazis as terrible as they were, but no Poles are shown to be anti-Semitic and one should understand that the Zabinskis were exceptions.   Also, the uprising of the Poles in Warsaw in Aug 1944 is shown as if it coincided with the Warsaw Ghetto uprising of April 1943.   Not only were they separated in time, but the Poles gave no help to the Jews when the Warsaw Ghetto uprising took place, that ended with the deliberate razing of the Ghetto by the Germans setting it on fire.  The Polish uprising was also suppressed by the German Army with many casualties. Warsaw was one of the most destroyed cities in WWII.

The true story of how the Zabinskis helped save Jewish lives is in some respects inspiring.  Definitely a movie worth seeing. But, we should not get carried away.  They saved hundreds at great peril to themselves.  Yet hundreds of thousands were being massacred.  A small degree of hope against a huge measure of despair.


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