"The Zookeeper's Wife" ("Azyl") Released Next Month - a Film About Jews Hidden in the Warsaw Zoo

Mateusz Szczepaniak, 22nd February 2017
From 24th March 2017, Polish and foreign cinemas will screen this long-awaited Hollywood production which tells the story of Warsaw Zoo Director Jan Żabiński, and his wife Antonina, who saved many Jews during the Holocaust. A preview screening will be held on 7th March in Warsaw in the presence of the film's director and several members of the cast.

"The House Under the Wacky Star" - during World War II this is what the Warsaw Zoo Director's house was called. During the Holocaust, the Zoo Director Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina hid many Jews inside it. Among those hidden were writer Rachela Auerbach, sculptor Magdalena Gross and Samuel Kenigswein with his family. In recognition of the help which they provided, in 1965, the Żabiński couple were honoured with the title of Righteous Among the Nations.

The creation of this biographical film about the Żabiński couple was announced back in 2013, but filming only began two years later. Directed by Niki Caro, "The Zookeeper's Wife" is based on the book of the same name, written in 2007 by American author Diane Ackerman. She, in turn, based her book on the memoirs of Antonina Żabińska, who is portrayed as the film's central character. Antonina is played by Hollywood star Jessica Chastain, who is a Golden Globe winner and has twice been nominated for an Oscar for her roles in "The Help” and "Zero Dark Thirty”. The role of Jan Żabiński is played by Johan Heldenbergh, known mainly for his role in "The Broken Circle Breakdown". The role of the dubious Nazis played by Daniel Brühl.

The film was not shot in the Praga district of Warsaw, the site of the actual events. It was shot on the streets of the Czech capital of Prague. The film's producers could not see the potential in using the authenticity of the Warsaw Zoo which, since 2015, visitors have been to see the restored house of Jan and Antonina Żabiński. Whether this decision was effective can be determined from 24th March 2017, the date of the film's World Premiere.

The story of Jan and Antonina Żabiński has featured, since 2015, on POLIN Museum's website "The Polish Righteous - Restoring Memory”, which features the virtual exhibition entitled "The House Under the Wacky Star”. The exhibition tells the story of the Żabiński couple, as well as that of several of those individuals whom they saved. This exhibition was honoured in the 2015 Sybilla Museum Events of the Year competition.