Hidden Jews in the Warsaw Zoo

Hidden Jews in the Warsaw Zoo

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This is the true story of the zookeepers at the Warsaw Zoo during World War II. Jan Zabinski and his wife Antonina, along with their little son Ryzsard, did their best to keep the zoo open during this difficult time. The courage and actions of this Polish Catholic family are an inspiration to us today. They were shocked by Nazi racism during a terrible time in history (now called the Holocaust). Fear did not paralyze this family - they took action! Their zoo had been nearly destroyed by the Nazis when they invaded in 1939. Sadly, most of the animals were killed or sent away. The Zabinski family stayed to take care of the remaining animals, but the family began to have a bigger plan for rescuing the Jews who were suffering in the nearby Warsaw Ghetto. Since the Nazis did not like the Jews, they decided that they were going to murder them, thinking they were not equals and had no value. The Zabinskis did not like how the Nazis were treating the Jews, so they decided that they were going to hide Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto inside the Warsaw Zoo. Jan became a part of the Polish Resistance Group that helped Jews escape from the Nazi's horrible conditions. Their system consisted of having Jan bring the Jews into the zoo and having Antonina find a place for them to stay. Some went in the cages disguised as animals, others went in their house and hid in closets, and some hid in an underground path that led to animal cages from their house. Antonina had to dye their hair to disguise them if they were to go into the animal cages. This helped them to look more like animals, because the Nazis were surrounding them and came frequently into the zoo. The Jews were told that if they heard the piano playing they needed to get back into their hiding places and be quiet to avoid discovery. Discovered as part of the resistance, Jan was sent to a prisoner camp in Germany which allowed no communication with his wife and son. Antonina did not know if he was safe, but she kept the Jews, aware that they needed her and also aware that Jan would want her to continue. During this time, Antonina tried to contact Jan, but all she got was one postcard with a drawing of how he felt, because he knew that the Germans might look at it. However, this communication proved he was alive and filled her with hope. While Jan was gone, Antonina tried to keep the hardships of the war from her son, Ryzsard. She involved him in taking everyday care of the Jews and the animals left in the zoo. Antonina endured and witnessed many things the Nazis had done to her family. There was a time Antonina feared for the safety of her own son when the Nazis took him and pretended to shoot him, but instead they shot a chicken. The Nazis lost the war, and Jan was returned from a POW camp. The Zabinskis had much to repair before the Warsaw Zoo could open again. A few years after the zoo reopened, the Zabinskis decided that they were going to retire from the zoo-keeping business. On September 21, 1965, Yad Vashem recognized Jan Zabinski and his wife, Antonina Zabinski, as -Righteous Among the Nations- for their bravery in saving over 300 Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto. Jan Zabinski stated, -I only did my duty. If you can save someone's life, it's your duty to try. We did it because it was the right thing to do.- For more on this story please read The Zookeeper's Wife by Diane Ackerman.
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Product details

  • Paperback | 24 pages
  • 216 x 280 x 2mm | 109g
  • English
  • Illustrations, color
  • 1514168162
  • 9781514168165

About A Book by Me

Amanda Leslie lives in the small Iowa town of Long Grove. She participates in sports like soccer and cross country running. She also loves music and hanging out with friends. Amanda is a student at North Scott High School in Eldridge, Iowa. She participated in their History Day program by researching and documenting the life of Antonina Zabinski. She chose to create a project board (in photo) which was later displayed at a local synagogue during Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance. Amanda was impacted by Antonina's life and humbled that the Zabinski family risked their lives to save 300 Jewish families and individuals. She feels Antonina is a powerful example of -doing the right thing- and leaves a legacy for everyone to strive for. Amanda hopes those reading Antonina's story will learn about making positive choices that help others.
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