“The Zookeeper’s Wife”
First I’ll send out a big thank you to Michelle Richings who filled in writing this column for two weeks while I was reading under a palm tree in Hawaii – Mahalo Michelle. And Second, I read some great books while I was sipping my pi-nada (pina colada with nada added) on the shore of Turtle Bay and I am excited to share them with you. My favorite was “The Zookeeper’s Wife” by Diane Ackerman so it gets the Book Look In Print award -or the BLIP. This is a cherished award as you can well imagine.
The zookeeper’s wife is the true story of the heroic Zabinski family who lived In Poland during the Nazi occupation of Warsaw. In the Author’s Note Ackerman explains why this true story was so compelling for her to write. “Jan and Antonina Zabinski were Christian zookeepers horrified by Nazi racism, who capitalized on the Nazis’ obsession with rare animals in order to save over three hundred doomed people. Their story has fallen between the seams of history, as radically compassionate acts sometimes do. But in wartime Poland, when even handing a thirsty Jew a cup of water was punishable by death, their heroism stands out as all the more startling.”
Using Antonia’s journal, Ackerman begins the tale of the zookeeper and his wife in the summer of 1935. They live an idyllic life caring for animals in beautiful surroundings in the middle of Warsaw. Antonina has a gift for nurturing and caring for the wounded and baby animals. As she brings them into the house for care, her skills and love for nature are very evident. Humorous antics are inevitable in a household combining animals and children and there are many entertaining escapades. Following the invasion of Germany, with most of the zoo and its many animals destroyed, their lives drastically change and they become heroic. Animals continue to coexist in their home, but now there are also Jews hiding there from the nearby ghetto of Warsaw. Jan and Antonina manage to provide not just a hiding place under the watchful eyes of nearby soldiers, but a sanctuary for those fleeing the Nazi Holocaust.
The absorbing story of individual bravery under extreme hardship and danger reminds us that good and great people light the pages in even the darkest events of history. I have read many sad books in the Holocaust literature collection, but this one left me feeling hopeful and inspired. It will have an honored place on my bookshelf as the first winner of the BLIP award.