The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Storyby Ackerman, Diane
Jan and Antonina Zabinski were keepers of the zoo in Warsaw, Poland, during the 1930s. When the Germans began bombing Warsaw, many of the zoo animals were killed or injured and the couple feared for their own lives and that of their young son. Despite the great danger (both of them kept a cyanide pill with them at all times), Jan joined the Polish Resistance. Jan needed a legal reason to be allowed to move freely in and out of the Warsaw Ghetto, so he offered to raise swine in the zoo for Nazi dinner tables. He was permitted to go into the Ghetto to collect scraps of food to feed the animals and sometimes escorted a Jew to safety on his return trip. Other members of the Resistance provided new identities and papers for those escaping the Ghetto. Jan did not tell Antonina details of his activities with the Underground and he certainly did not tell her that there were weapons buried on the zoo property. Hiding a continual stream of strangers at the zoo was made easier by such activities as providing space for community gardens, but the knowledge that German soldiers could search their house at any time meant that danger was a constant companion. The discovery of Jewish refugees hiding in cages, sheds or closets at the zoo would have meant certain death, but this courageous couple was not discovered and they were able to help over 300 people escape to freedom.
Author Diane Ackerman has written an absorbing and eloquent history of Polish citizens doing what they thought was right. Her skillful prose enables the reader to get a real sense of the Polish experience under the German occupation 1939-1945. Ackerman relied particularly on Antonina's diary and notes, her children's books, and interviews the Zabinskis gave to various Polish, Hebrew and Yiddish newspapers. She was also able to interview their son and various contemporaries, some of whom had served in the Underground with Jan.
Reviewed by mc, 10/07. Other reviews by mc. Have you read this book? Tell us what you think!