Wednesday, December 5, 2012
The Zookeeper's Wife
I've become a little obsessed with my local metropolitan library's app on my iPad. There are, literally, tons and tons and tons of books and audiobooks that you can check out electronically. This was my most recent listen via this app.
The Zookeeper's Wife, written like a novel, is the true story of the plight endured by the Warsaw zookeeper and his wife during World War II. Antonina Żabińksi, the zookeeper's wife, kept a journal and Diane Ackerman pieces together her story masterfully along with other wartime documents.
I guess I never thought about what it would be like to own a zoo during wartime, and what you'd have to do to maintain and sacrifice for the animals. Many animals were carefully transferred to other zoos outside the country, but many more were victims of the war.
What's so extraordinary about this story is what the Żabińksis managed to accomplish during this sad time, using the zoo as a farce. Many Jews were temporarily smuggled out of the Warsaw ghetto and into zoo cages or within their villa. Once a safe-haven was found for these Jews, they were able to move on. How many Jews lived because of the Żabińksis' generosity of spirit and their willingness to jeopardize their own position? It's hard to know.
One thing that greatly saddened me about this book was the story of the Żabińksis' son, Ryszard. He knew how important it was to not reveal what was going on within his home, that Antonina documents in her journal how he withdrew from other children and attempted to NOT make friends during the war. The poor child was too scared he might accidentally reveal the household goings-on, that Ryszard became something of an introvert and played almost singularly with zoo animals or other Jewish children within the zoo grounds.
Between listening to Antonina's own eccentricities, the zoo animals' activities (especially badger) and Jan's (the zookeeper) bold underground workings, this book is amazing and tragic at the same time. While so many horrible things were going on in Warsaw, this family was able to keep their heads above water AND help others while attempting to keep a positive attitude.
I highly recommend this book. I'll say again, that this book reads like a novel. After listening in audiobook form for about 30 minutes, I had to double-check that this was, truly, a work of non-fiction.