Film About the Warsaw Zoo's Wartime History is Now Online!

Redakcja / Editorial staff / English translation: Andrew Rajcher, 25 March 2020
Łukasz Czajka's film "O zwierzętach i ludziach” ("Of Animals and Men") can now be viewed on the web. Following its autumn's cinema premiere, the story of Warsaw Zoo's wartime history is now available through VOD. This is another film which presents the story of Warsaw Zoo Director Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina who, during the Holocaust, helped many Jews. The film uses archival material, dramatised scenes and statements from the last living witnesses to history and the descendants of these heroes.

I felt that this is a story which I had to tell. This is a story about people who were not interested in praise. The modesty, decency and love which they showed to everyone is what attracted me to their story.

– the film's director, Łukasz Czajka (Source: Audycje Kulturalne).

During the German occupation,. the Warsaw Zoo, headed by Jan Żabiński, became a place of hiding for many Jews. In the modernist Żabiński villa, located within the Zoo, those who found shelter included sculptor Magdalena Gross, writer Rachela Auerbach annd boxer Samuel Koenigswein with his family. In ackowledgement of their deeds, Jan and Antonina Żabiński were honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

Their story hit world screens in 2017 with the Hollywood production of "The Zookeeper's Wife”, directed by Niki Caro. The film was based on the book "The Zookeeper’s Wife” by Diane Ackerman, which was inspired by the memoirs of Antonina Żabińska, who featured as the heroine of the film. Her character was played by Jessica Chastain – Hollywood star, Golden Globe winner and twice nominated for an Oscar.

The premiere of "Of Animals and Men" took place on 2nd September 2019 at the Warsaw Zoo. The film can now be viewed on VOD.

"Of Animals and Men”

The film is based in Antonina Żabińska's book "People and Animals” (1968) and uses much archival materials,dramatised scenes and statements by the last living witnesses to history and the descandants of tjhese heroes, including Holocaust Survivor, Moshe Tirosh, Krzysztof Prochaski, whose mother hid in the Zoo and also Żabińskis' daugts, Teresa Zawadzka. 

The film is rich in surreal scenes with the animals. Apart from the Żabiński couple and the Jews they were hiding, they feature as one of the most important elements of the story which begins before the War, when the Warsaw Zoo teemed with life. The Żabiński family lived amongst those for whom they cared - the animals whose fate changes with the beginning of German occupation, when bombs fall on the Zoo.

The film's narrative was created from excerpts of Antonina Żabińska's memoirs (read by Maria Pakulnis) about the people and animals she loved, the situation in the Zoo and also her comments about the situation in occupied Poland. 

"Of Animals and Men”, Poland 2019; script and director: Łukasz Czajka; editing: Jakub Piątek; photography: Kacper Czubak; music: Marcin Masecki. The film was co-financed by the Polish Film Institute.

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See Also

An interiew with Zoo Holocaust Survivor Stefania Koenigswein and the Żabiński couple's daughter, Teresa Zawadzka, from the Oral History Collection of the POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews: