Synopses & Reviews
When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw--and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen "guests" hid inside the Zabinskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants--otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes.
With her exuberant prose and exquisite sensitivity to the natural world, Diane Ackerman engages us viscerally in the lives of the zoo animals, their keepers, and their hidden visitors. She shows us how Antonina refused to give in to the penetrating fear of discovery, keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.
"'Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) tells the remarkable WWII story of Jan Zabinski, the director of the Warsaw Zoo, and his wife, Antonina, who, with courage and coolheaded ingenuity, sheltered 300 Jews as well as Polish resisters in their villa and in animal cages and sheds. Using Antonina's diaries, other contemporary sources and her own research in Poland, Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Poles' revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. She introduces us to such varied figures as Lutz Heck, the duplicitous head of the Berlin zoo; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, spiritual head of the ghetto; and the leaders of Zegota, the Polish organization that rescued Jews. Ackerman reveals other rescuers, like Dr. Mada Walter, who helped many Jews 'pass,' giving 'lessons on how to appear Aryan and not attract notice.' Ackerman's writing is viscerally evocative, as in her description of the effects of the German bombing of the zoo area: '...the sky broke open and whistling fire hurtled down, cages exploded, moats rained upward, iron bars squealed as they wrenched apart.' This suspenseful beautifully crafted story deserves a wide readership. 8 pages of illus. (Sept.)' Publishers Weekly (Starred Review) (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)"
"[A] shining book beyond category....[A] book to read and reread and give to others." Los Angeles Times
"With its biblical allusions, cuddly characters and well-covered historical subject matter, The Zookeeper's Wife might have been a gamble, had anyone else but Diane Ackerman tackled it." San Francisco Chronicle
"[An] absorbing book." New York Times
"Ackerman has done an invaluable service in bringing a little-known story of heroism and compassion to light. Highly recommended." Library Journal
After their zoo was bombed, Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski managed to save over three hundred people from the Nazis by hiding refugees in the empty animal cages. With animal names for these "guests," and human names for the animals, it's no wonder that the zoo's code name became "The House Under a Crazy Star." Best-selling naturalist and acclaimed storyteller Diane Ackerman combines extensive research and an exuberant writing style to re-create this fascinating, true-life story--sharing Antonina's life as "the zookeeper's wife," while examining the disturbing obsessions at the core of Nazism. Winner of the 2008 Orion Award.
A true story "as powerful as Schindler's List" in which the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.
2008 Orion Book Award
The New York Times bestseller: a true story in which the keepers of the Warsaw zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands.
About the Author
Diane Ackerman is the acclaimed author of A Natural History of the Senses, the bestselling The Zookeeper's Wife, Dawn Light, One Hundred Names for Love, and many other books. She lives in Ithaca, New York, and Palm Beach, Florida.