The Zookeeper’s Wife is a true story based on the unpublished diary of Antonina Żabińska, who was the wife of Jan Żabiński, director of the Warsaw Zoo during the World War 2 Era. Joel, who’s become our family’s literary expert, secured an audio copy of The Zookeeper’s Wife from our local library for our listening edification on the way down to Disney. I was going to say “listening pleasure,” and there would be some truth to that, because the author, Diana Ackerman, crafted a beautifully poetic and deeply sympathetic account, as only a trained naturalist with gifts of grace could write. However lovely the prose, though, the account is a shocking insight into the diabolical evil of Nazism, and so the book—written from the perspective of two women who love all things bright and beautiful (both the author and the zookeeper’s wife)—leaves the reader with a deep grief over the darkness to which man can stoop.
The Zookeeper’s Wife unfolds with an idyllic description of prewar life at the Żabiński’s villa and traces their journey through the Polish occupation. Although the Żabińskis were able to maintain their property by “reinventing” themselves into pig farmers and then fur farmers to serve the Germans, they used their privilege as a base for resistance work and rescuing some 300 Jewish victims of the Polish Ghetto. In recognition of their humanitarian work, Yad Vashem (Israel’s 1965 memorial to the Jewish Holocaust victims) has honored Jan and Antonina Żabiński as “righteous among the nations.” In an interview, Jan was asked why he risked his life to help others, to which he replied that all creatures—human and animal—need care, and that he was “only doing his duty” to protect the persecuted Jewish people. Amen to that!
The Zookeeper’s Wife was published in 2007 and quickly became a New York Times bestseller. In 2008 it became the recipient of the Orion Award. In fact, it’s become so popular that it’s been made into a movie that will be released in the U.S. this year (2015), although it’s not available yet. I haven’t seen the movie, but I’m definitely hoping to, because the book is unforgettable! And, I hope they stick to the true storyline…although I doubt they’ll be able to find a badger smart enough to dig a child’s training potty out from under the bed and use it for its intended purpose, as really happened when there was a pet badger living in the Żabiński’s villa! 🙂
“Therefore to him that knoweth to do good, and doeth it not, to him it is sin.” (James 4:17)