Golden Globes' winner Jessica Chastain's forthcoming film The Zookeeper's Wife revolves around a true story of the German invasion of Poland in 1939. The story is based upon a non-fiction novel written by acclaimed author and naturalist, Diane Ackerman.
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The Zookeeper's Wife is based on the real-life story of Antonina Żabińska (Jessica Chastain) and her husband, Dr Jan Żabiński (Johan Heldenbergh). The time is 1939. The place is Poland, the homeland of Antonina. The Warsaw Zoo flourishes under Jan's stewardship and Antonina's care. When their country is invaded by the Nazis, Jan and Antonina are forced to report to the Reich's newly appointed chief zoologist, Lutz Heck (Daniel Brühl of Captain America: Civil War). The Żabińskis covertly begin working with the Resistance – and put into action plans to save the lives of hundreds from what has become the Warsaw Ghetto, with Antonina putting herself and her children at great risk.
Here are five things which you need to know about the real Zookeeper's Wife:
- The director of Warsaw zoo, Dr Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina Żabińska hid as many as 300 Jews in between the halls of their zoo and villa, as well as in animal cages and underground tunnels in the facility right under the noses of the German Nazi soldiers.
- Antonina would warn everybody by playing an operetta on the piano whenever a Nazi soldier got too close by their villa. So her hidden Jew guests would escape through the tunnel or hide in a wardrobe upstairs that opened on both sides like a magician's trunk.
- The zoo couple of Warsaw always used to carry cyanide during the period of World War II as danger was always breathing down their neck. They were ever-ready to take the secret to the grave.
- Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina used to fake ravenous appetites to feel the extra mouths. Antonina wrote in her 1968 memoirs, "The hardest was explaining away the increase in daily meals to the housekeeper." And, the housekeeper would mutter saying, "I can't believe how much they eat! I've never seen anything like it!"
- Moshe Tirosh, who was one of the Jew survivors of that time (he was a 5-year-old boy then), shared his experience with AFP. Antonina tried to make his family "look less Jewish" by bleaching their hair lighter before the family moved on after spending a long time in Antonina's zoo house. "She locked herself in the bathroom with us and dyed our hair. She rubbed and rubbed and when we came out of the bathroom, Rysiek (nickname for the Zabinskis' son) cried out, 'Mum! What did you do? That's squirrel colour," Tirosh said, of the inadvertent reddish colour. Since then the family became known as The Squirrels.
Directed by Niki Caro, The Zookeeper's Wife is set to be released in cinemas on March 31, 2017.