Ackerman, Diane. The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story. Jan and Antonina Zabinski lived in a villa on the grounds of the Warsaw Zoo; Jan had become director in 1929, and when he and Antonina were married in 1931, they both devoted themselves to the zoo. For several years, the couple enjoyed their unique association with the zoo animals, and Jan worked at creating "an innovative zoo of world importance at the heart of Warsaw's life, both social and cultural..."
Antonina, with her unusual sensitivity to the zoo animals, was as much a part of the zoo's success as Jan, as deeply in love with its inhabitants, and as actively involved in promotion of its beauty and opportunities. In August of 1939, however, the threat of invasion presaged the end of their comfortable life of serving and caring for their beloved animals. And then, with terrible swiftness, their zoo was decimated by the Nazi regime.
This is the story of the German invasion and occupation of Poland and of the terrible events that ensued, including the confining of the Jewish population in the Warsaw Ghetto, the eventual transportation of the the surviving Jews to concentration camps, the final destruction of the Ghetto, the destruction of Warsaw...and the personal efforts of both the Polish resistance and courageous individuals in rescuing and harboring as many Jews as they could. More specifically, this book is the story of the "Guests" that Jan and Antonina hid in their home and on the zoo grounds at the risk of their own lives.
It is a terrible and wonderful story of real people and quiet courage. In an earlier post, I discussed the book and gave some links that provide background to the entire Warsaw story.
Ackerman has done a fine job in bringing to light the role the Warsaw zoo and Jan and Antonina Zabinski played in saving the lives of over 300 Jews. Relying on extensive research and on Antonina's diaries, Ackerman often digresses, but she never plays on your emotions in her presentation of events. Liberated in 1945, Warsaw's pre-war population of "one hundred and a half million people" was estimated in early 1946 at "half a million at most"--with "living space for a tenth that number," according to Dr. Joseph Tenenbaum. One million Poles and Polish Jews dead or, in a small percentage of cases, successfully escaped from the city to safety elsewhere. Hard to imagine.
Endangered Species: Jews and Buffaloes. An excellent article relating the terrible effect of the invasion on the zoo animals, the plundering of the rare animals by Lutz Heck, Natzi attempts at genetic engineering to "reconstruct" extinct animals, the new purpose of the zoo as a shelter and escape route for Jews, and more.
Nonfiction. Biography/ history. 2007. W.W. Norton & Co. 323 pages.
Another review can be found at CaribousMom.