Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Zookeeper's Wife

By Diane Ackerman

The true story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski's role in saving the lives of many Jews and others targeted by the Nazis during the German occupation of Poland.
Before Germany invaded Poland, Jan and Antonina ran the Warsaw Zoo. They made many improvements to the zoo, including building structures for the animals that were more like their natural habitats than just a plain cage. Jan was the official director of the zoo, but Antonina, who had an instinctive understanding of animals, helped in the nurture and care of the animals too.
But when the Germans moved on Poland, the zoo suffered greatly. It was bombed because it was located near strategic targets. Many of the animals were killed during the bombing. Others, such as the bears and big cats, were shot because of fears they would escape. Many were carted off the Germany where it was believed they would be safer. Of course, they weren't as Germany was heavily bombed during the war.
Left with no animals for the zoo, Jan turned it into a pig farm and later it was used to breed fur animals to supply the German military with warm coats.
But that is not all for which it was used. The Zabinskis used their home and several of the remaining structures at the zoo as hiding places for Jews and others fleeing the Nazis. Jan and Antonina gave them food, clothes, refuge and false ID papers to help them travel on to safety. Altogether, they helped to save the lives of many people who would have ended up in the Nazi extermination camps.

This was a pretty good read. It really puts the reader right into the suffering and terror of that time and place.  Books like this are vital to remind us just how vile human beings can be to one another and to never forget that terrible things that have been done in the name of ridiculous ideologies.

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