“Zookeeper’s Wife” Is A Moving and Memorable Holocaust Film
By Richard Friedman,
BJF Executive Director
Despite receiving some lackluster reviews, the film “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” currently playing in theaters, is outstanding.
The movie, based on a true story, is a Holocaust film starring Jessica Chastain. It takes place in Warsaw mainly in the early 1940s as the Nazis, who occupied Poland, were murdering 6,000,000 European Jews. The film tells of the heroic struggle of Warsaw’s zookeeper and his wife to save Jews by courageously hiding them at great personal risk.
Reviewers for several prestigious publications criticized it, among other things, for not being impactful enough regarding the atrocities of the Holocaust, focusing more on the zoo’s animals than Jews, and being bland in general. In my view, and based on the reaction to the movie from other members of the Jewish community who were at the screening of the film that I attended, those reviews missed the mark.
It is a powerful well-done narrative, Chastain and the rest of the cast is outstanding, and the depictions of the persecution and violence against the Jews was done effectively. The writing is strong, the plot is engrossing, and the film does a good job of probing moral dilemmas that the zookeeper and his wife faced at various junctures.
Throughout the film I kept thinking about Israel and why having a secure and sovereign Jewish country, willing to welcome Jews seeking refuge on a moment’s notice, is so important. Israel’s rebirth as a modern country came in 1948; had we had Israel in the late 1930s and early 1940s, millions of Jews likely would have been saved.
I also thought about what a strong Jewish Federation movement with today’s fundraising, education and mobilization capabilities could have done at that time to help our fellow Jews trapped in Europe.
It’s also worth noting that the zookeeper and his wife — Dr. Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina — were later honored by the state of Israel for their efforts to save Jews and they have a tree planted in their honor in Israel’s “Garden of the Righteous” which is part of Yad Vashem, the country’s Holocaust memorial.
Please consider seeing this excellent film. It is engrossing, educational, effective and — yes — entertaining.
Since Israel’s rebirth in 1948, our history has proven that there come moments in time — such as the rescue of Ethiopia’s Jewish community and the massive migration of Soviet Jews to Israel, both having taken place in the late 1980s and early 1990s — that remind us how different things could have been in the early 1940s if we had Israel and a strong Jewish Federation movement.
And also if we had had more friends like the zookeeper and his wife.