Polish Language Blog

My favorite parts of “The zookeeper’s wife” Posted by on Feb 28, 2022 in Film & Theater, History

I have to start with a statement that “The zookeepers wife” is a very emotional and heart-wrenching story…no matter if you are reading a book or watching a movie. So better get a box of tissues ready…

I have read a book and watched a movie. It is a true story of how the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands. “When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw—and the city’s zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Janand Antonina Żabiński began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen “guests” hid inside the Żabińskis’ villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and itsanimal inhabitants—otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.” (From the publisher)

With any adaptation from book to screen there will always be differences and edits. Sometimes what flows well on the page doesn’t work well on screen. I usually read a book first…although in this particular situation it was the other way around.

My daughter and I at the Warsaw ZOO. Image by Kasia Scontsas

I loved both movie and the book! It was a sad story, but it was a story about my country’s history…and watching the Warsaw ZOO and reading about it brought back so many memories from when I was a little girl. I visited the ZOO with my daughter back in 2010 and we had a blast looking at all of the animals and walking through the ZOO.

What were my favorite parts? Well…reading the book, you can only imagine how everything looks like. Even though a lot of times you have a detailed description, it is your imagination that does the rest. And that’s what I love about books. Once you watch a movie, you have a clear vision in front of you.

Watching this movie I have to say that music was just amazing – such an important part of movies. One example: the traditional “Mah Nishtanah” melody was heard during the “burning of the ghetto” scene. Already a haunting melody, this adds a whole new level of meaning to this emotional chapter of Warsaw’s history.

Another very important part of the story is Antonina playing her piano to send the secret messages to Jews hidden at the house, with one melody to warn of danger and a different one to signal that danger had passed. According to plan, she went straight to her piano and began to play a lively tune from an operetta by Jacques Offenbach, a signal to Jews being sheltered in the house that they should be quiet and not leave their hiding places.

I also absolutely loved Antonia’s personality: brave, beautiful, calm, loving…with compassion to both animals and people. She was an animal whisperer, a loving mother with love not only for her children, but also any children in the world.

This brings me to another amazing part of the story…the part where Jewish kids, hidden in the basement of Żabiński’s house, were drawing on the walls. They were drawing their stories…I love art and this was a true art of life.

And then of course so many characters’s love, compassion and willingness to help other people, no matter how dangerous it might be, is what I loved about the story.

I guess all I can say that book is definitely worth reading and the movie is definitely worth watching. And to remember that it is never too late for acts of compassion and it is never too late to act. One person can make a difference in the world.

Giraffe at the ZOO. Image by Alexas_Fotos on Pixabay



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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


  1. Pam Prophet:

    And once again, Poland is aiding the people of Ukraine. May peace prevail.❤️🤍💙💛

  2. Linda Kozlowski:

    I enjoyed the book very much and now I will watch the movie too. Thank you, Linda Kozlowski, Vermont