Z is for Zookeeper’s Wife

April 30, 2015

For the A to Z blogging challenge I’ve decided to blog about the 1940′s. And in the spirit of the 1940′s, at the end of the month, I’ll be giving away an ebook copy of one of my favorite books, Summer at Tiffany, to one of my newsletter subscribers (sign-up on the sidebar if you are so inclined.) It’s a light-hearted memoir of two college girls let loose in New York City for a summer. What a hoot.



Ever wonder what happened to the animals in the zoos during WWII? We hear a lot about the artwork that was stolen, but paintings and sculptures weren’t the only items being plundered and sent to Nazi Germany.

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story tells the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, managers of the Zoo in Warsaw, Poland. Warsaw was the city that was taken over at the start of the war in 1939, and then, after local revolts, was almost completely razed to the ground near the end of the war, in 1944. Between these bookends were unspeakable tragedies, mixed with local heroism.

As you can imagine, food was harder to come by as much of it was gathered and sent back to Germany, yet the Zabinskis were determined to keep the animals alive. However, their best animals were also gathered up and sent to Germany. Some animals were shot. And some animals made their way into the house for safekeeping.

In addition to taking care of the animals, the Zabinski’s were able to deliver food and supplies to the people in the Jewish ghetto, as well as hide three hundred refugees on the Zoo property for various lengths of time, despite the property also being used for storage by the German military.

Here is how Antonina describes a newly arriving family:

“I looked at them with tears in my eyes. Poor chicks with big eyes full of fear and sadness looked back at me.”

Regina’s eyes, especially, disturbed her, because they were “the leaden eyes of a young mother doomed to death.”

Antonina wrote that she felt a wrenching inside, a tug-of-war between compassion and self-interest, and a kind of embarrassment that she could do so little for them without endangering herself and her own family. – p. 216, The Zookeeper’s Wife

These are only some of the highlights of what the Zabinskis did. You’ll have to read the book for the details! UPDATE: The Zookeeper’s Wife is to be made into a movie, 2016

A new museum has been opened up at the Warsaw Zoo where you can tour the Zabinski’s house, the only building on the property to survive the war.

Listen to what author Diane Ackerman has to say about the Zabinskis:

8 responses to Z is for Zookeeper’s Wife

  1. I had that book out of the library awhile ago, but never got around to reading it. My parents got it for me as a birthday present (in ebook form) a few years ago, so I really have no more excuses for not reading it.

  2. Hi,
    I’d never heard of this book but your description has made me want to read it. I will go online and see if I can acquire from Amazon.

    Your posts have been very informative. I am glad I discovered your blog and will continue to follow you.

    Congratulations! We made it.
    All the best.

  3. Wow! I never knew that. I never thought about the zoos from that time period. It never occurred to me. You gave me quite an education and something to think about. An unthinkable and horrendous and tragic event has now been compounded in my mind. Great post.

    • I found it very interesting, too, Gregg. There are so many details we miss out on reading textbooks only. Biographies are a great way to learn the details of the war.

  4. Congratulations on getting to the end of the A-Z, and congratulations on being the only book reviewer who has sparked enough interest for me to go and get the book! ~Liz http://www.lizbrownleepoet.com (don’t use Twitter of Blogger links, they don’t work!)

    • I’m glad you’re going to read the book, Liz. About the links…do you mean the html signature I left? I learned how to do that on the A to Z main post. It works for most of the blogs I’ve been to, but not all. I’m sure there’s a pattern to it if I pay attention.