Niki Caro, born 1967 in Wellington, achieved fame with her 2002 movie Whale Rider and has since continued her reputation overseas for being a good director. The Zookeeper’s Wife currently showing at the Shoreline is an adaption of the non-fiction book of the same title from 2007 which made the NY Times best-seller list.
It deals with a couple, Antonina Zabinski and her husband Jan, who ran a zoo in Warsaw, Poland. During WWII the city suffered devastation by its Nazi occupiers and its Jewish population, which in 1939 represented about 30% of the total, were mostly victims of the Holocaust. Initially, they were confined to a small part of the city surrounded by a wall; in 1943 the ghetto was liquidated, but not before the Jews put up a fight. As a result it was completely destroyed by the Nazis. Following a general uprising, the whole city experienced the same a year later. After WWII, the old town was rebuilt as it had been, but most of the city was rebuilt in Stalinist-brutalist style.
Although the zoo was near the targets of bombardment in September 1939 and many animals were killed, the Nazi zoologist Lutz Heck saw a use for it in his experiments to re-breed extinct animals; while the couple saw an accompanying new pig farm to feed German troops as a good cover to rescue some 300 Jews from the Ghetto. It’s probably not too much of a spoiler to say that all the central characters survived the war, including all but 2 of the Jews.
“Based on a true story” inevitably means, however, that some things didn’t happen as shown and the official Polish site culture.pl analyses that here.