“I don’t understand all the fuss. If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal.”
This is the only book of Diane Ackerman’s that I’ve ever read, and I’ll readily admit I only even heard of it because of the movie of the same title. I’m so glad she wrote this, so we can all be amazed and inspired by how these heroes cleverly outsmart and bravely overcome a powerful evil, saving hundreds of innocents from its madness.
It’s the true story of Antonina and her husband Jan Zabinski, who kept a zoo in Warsaw, Poland… They were real, and so- imperfect people who knew how to be bigger than their flaws. This allowed them to see beyond their own troubles and take giant steps over their fears in order to rescue others in far worse danger. I love it.
Antonina was the kind of animal lover who brought up ‘wild’ animals alongside her child in their home, including lynx, badger, and even hyena pups. She cared for them tenderly and took their ways and needs in stride in an incredible way and to an incredible degree.
“Why was it, she asked herself, that ‘animals can sometimes subdue their predatory ways in only a few months, while humans, despite centuries of refinement, can quickly grow more savage than any beast.”
Early in World War 2, when the Germans bombed Warsaw, many of the zoo’s animals and enclosures were destroyed. But the Nazis’ insane obsession with a master race extended beyond humans, and the Warsaw zoo had some valuable animals in its captive breeding program, which the Nazis prized enough to try and exploit as a resource.
In the most horrible irony, while they were capturing millions of Jewish (and other marginalized) people and sending them in cattle cars to concentration camps where they were treated as sub-humans, the Nazis were going to great lengths to recreate strong, ancient, ‘pure’ animal races.
Jan and Antonina decided to take friends into their home to provide them with a safe hiding place. But that wasn’t enough.
“Suffering took hold of me like a magic spell abolishing all differences between friends and strangers.”
Eventually, they were secretly bringing hundreds of Jewish people from the ghetto into their zoo and hiding them in empty animal cages.
The Zabinskis empathy and humanity in a time and place overshadowed by inhumanity and cruelty makes for a terrible contrast, highlighting their heroism.
“We feel what we see, we experience others as self.”
The research that led to the writing of this book is astounding, and the story that unfolds from the pages of history is breathtaking.
It throws down the gauntlet; how many of us are willing to endure even a small inconvenience to stand up for someone who’s being made to suffer for their ethnicity or their religion?
Have you read this book?
What other stories of heroism do you love?
I’m sure I’ll be writing about other ones as time goes by…
Thank you for reading with me,
ps: I hope you’ll leave me a comment, follow, and share my blog!