Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. 1 Corinthians 16:13
In life, our faith, convictions, and courage will be tested. In some people's lifetime, this test will be set in a background of war, in which the danger is greater, and the stakes and sacrifice higher.
I recently attended an advanced screening of the movie The Zookeeper's Wife. The movie is adapted from the book of the same name by author Diane Ackerman. It is based on the true story of Antonina and Jan Żabiński, a Christian husband and wife, who oversaw the many animals of the Warsaw Zoo in Poland during the 1930s with love and care.
The Warsaw Zoo flourished and became a destination under Antonina and Jan. People from all over Europe would visit. But the year 1939 marked a turning point. The Nazis invaded Poland and the world was plunged into World War II.
Under the Nazi occupation, Poland was engulfed in fear and oppression. But no one suffered more than the Jewish population who would soon face persecution. Jan and Antonina saw the abuse at the hands of the Nazis. Their friends and the Jewish community at large were rounded up and hauled off to the Warsaw Ghetto.
But despite the Nazi threat, the Żabiński's could not allow themselves to stand aside, in the face of such injustice and evil. They joined the Polish resistance and took it upon themselves to carry out a plan that snuck out Jews from the ghetto. Throughout the war, they sheltered and protected over 300 Jews at their beloved Warsaw Zoo keeping these guests safe from the Nazis who were constantly suspicious of their activities.
I cried quite a number of times as I watched injustice and oppression - our history- unfold onscreen. But I also marveled at the inner strength and courage that I saw portrayed by Jan and Antonina (played by remarkable actors Jessica Chastain and Johan Heldenbergh) and from the resistance fighters - all ordinary people - like you and me, sacrificing their safety to fight against evil. As I watched the film I often asked myself, "What would I do and would I be willing to risk my life to do the right thing and save the lives of innocent people?"
Fear has a way of turning us into completely different individuals. In many cases throughout history, there were silent observers of the injustice happening around them. However, Jan and Antonina's were not such people. Their compassion and convictions resulted in hundreds of lives saved. According to the novel, "The Zookeeper's Wife," they were devout Christians who felt called to fight against the Nazi oppression. I'm sure their faith strengthened them when they felt doubt, fear, and danger for themselves and their family.
We have come a long way since the end of World War II. Heroes among us have multiplied to rise and to stand up to injustice. Our country consistently offers refuge to those fleeing violence and danger in their own countries. But there's still a lot more work to be done. We must
be vigilant in our compassion and also mindful of the role fear can play in our lives. We must remember heroes like Antonina and Jan Żabiński. And we must never forget that our faith will save and strengthen us in times of crisis.
The Zookeeper's Wife shows us how once again God uses ordinary people to do extraordinary deeds. When the State of Israel later honored the Żabińskis as Righteous Among the Nations the couple remained modest about their achievements. Deep down in their hearts they knew they were carrying out the Lord's work and did not need the recognition.
This touching movie is a reminder of how we must never forget the past and continue to seek the Lord's guidance in times of unrest and fear, and ultimately have the courage to stand up against injustice.
The Zookeeper's Wife releases in theaters on Friday, March 31.