Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story

Posted by nliakos on June 19, 2011

by Diane Ackerman (2007 Thorndike, Gale, Thomson)

The Zookeeper’s Wife was Antonina Zabinski, wife of the director of the Warsaw Zoo. When the Nazis bombed Warsaw in 1939, the zoo was heavily damaged and many animals killed, but things would get worse: the Nazis occupied Poland, and what animals were left were either taken to German zoos or shot for sport. Jan and Antonina Zabinski fled for a short time with Jan’s frail mother and their young son Rys, later returned to live out most of the war in their villa on the zoo grounds. The zoo became, for a while, a pig farm and then a fur farm, but for the Zabinskis, it provided them a way to shelter Jewish friends and acquaintances (at first) and then others who were fleeing persecution and the Ghetto. Jan was active in the Polish resistance; Antonina ran an ever-growing, ever-fluctuating household of legitimate and illegitimate “guests” which included non-human as well as human animals.

I learned how many Poles risked their lives to protect their Jewish neighbors during the Nazi occupation. I tried to imagine how it would feel to be in such danger for so long, and to actually court danger by hiding people from the occupying Germans.  It is important to remember the bravery of people such as the Zabinskis and their friends.

The book  is meticulously documented but also somewhat over-written, by which I mean the language was a bit flowery for my taste.  However, I enjoyed it, if one can enjoy reading about Nazi cruelty; appreciated it is perhaps the better term. I am glad I read it, at any rate.

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