The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story

The Zookeeper’s Wife is the story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski, who helped save hundreds of Jewish lives in Warsaw, Poland during World War II. Jan was the head zookeeper of the Warsaw Zoo. Prior to WWII, this was a modern and important zoo. The Zabinski family lived in a large house on the zoo grounds. Many of the zoo’s animals were killed during the German army’s occupation of Warsaw; numerous other animals were confiscated by the Germans for their own zoos.

Throughout the occupation, the Zabinski’s gave shelter to Jews who were escaping the Warsaw Ghetto. They hid the fugitives in animal enclosures and tunnels in the zoo, as well as in their own house. Jan was able to enter the Ghetto. He brought food into the Ghetto, and often helped smuggle people out. Towards the end of the war, Jan also fought in the Polish underground army and was, for a time, a prisoner of war. The Zabinski’s story is briefly told on the website of Yad Vashem, the Holocaust memorial in Israel. Diane Ackerman has done so much research and given a thorough accounting of the Zabinski’s heroism.

Unfortunately for this very important book, it is not so well-written. It took me a long time to get into reading it. I really had to plow on through the first few chapters. I only bothered because this was a selection for my book club.  it would have been much more interesting if Ackerman had spent more time on the details of how the Zabinski’s helped the Jews. And if we had more information about the people they helped, it would have been more interesting. There are some photos in the book. I do think that a map of Warsaw during the occupation would have been helpful, as well as a map of the zoo.

To summarize-important, yes. A good read-no.


Published in hardcover-W.W. Norton-2007
Softcover edition-W.W. Norton-2008

The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story


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