FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

A Story of Courage, Creativity and Survival

In 1939, the relentless Nazi bombardment of Warsaw destroyed the city’s zoo. What the Nazis didn’t know, however, is that what they had destroyed was not an ordinary zoo but the extraordinary creation of an unusual Christian Polish couple, Jan and Antonina Zabinski. Thanks to them and their son Ryszard’s efforts, approximately 300 Jewish women, men and children were saved from certain death.

They were able to do it because, at different times, the zoo and the Zabinski’s home hid dozens of Jewish women, children and men from Nazi persecution. They hid them in their home’s closets, rooms and even in the animals’ old cages in the zoo. All of it while trying to maintain a normal life in very abnormal times, times of cruelty and ruthless persecution.

Jan and Antonina were a married Christian couple from Warsaw. Jan was a zoologist and zoo technician, and also a scientist, organizer and director of the renowned Warsaw Zoo before and during World War II. He became director of the Zoo before the war broke out and during the occupation of Poland held the prestigious job as Superintendent of the city’s public parks.

During all that time, Antonina Zabinski and her young son Ryszard looked after the needs of the many Jews hidden in their home. Although Jan Zabinski initially paid with his own funds for feeding and hiding his new guests, he was later helped by Zegota (Council Aid to the Jews.) After the Nazi bombing of the zoo, Jan joined the Polish resistance while at the same time teaching biology at an underground university. He was also bringing food into the Warsaw Ghetto and also using the zoo to hide arms for the resistance. In addition, a true war hero, Jan was building bombs, sabotaging trains and poisoning meat sent to the Germans.

To hide these activities, Antonina tried to show a brave face, inviting guests, holding receptions at their home and trying to show to the world outside a normal face even though the three of them were under the constant threat of being found out and if so of probable torture and death.

Both Jan and Antonina were quite different from each. While he was a courageous risk-taker who had befriended many Jews, Antonina was often fearful and it was her connection to the animal world that they kept in the zoo what made her aware of other beings’ suffering.

An orphan since she was nine, Antonina was a cultured woman who spoke several languages and loved animals. After marrying Jan in 1931 she raised animals in their own home, among them orphaned lynx and lion cubs. When her husband Jan smuggled Jews out of the ghetto where they were living, she also adopted them and brought them to their home.

The Zabinskys went through some grueling times when all this was happening. Lutz Heck, a German zoologist who took most of their animals from their zoo to the Berlin zoo decided one day to ingratiate himself with his Nazi friends and SS higher-ups. So he invited them to a private hunting party, this time in the Warsaw zoo.

When Heck and the Nazi officers arrived at the zoo wielding pistols Antonina took her terrified son and ran indoors. From her son’s room they could see through the drawn curtains the carnage of animals taking place outside. That “sheer gratuitous slaughter” made her wonder how many human beings would later lose their lives that same cruel way.

In 1944 Jan participated in the Warsaw Uprising, to liberate the city from the German forces. He was injured and became a prisoner of war. Two years later, he returned to Warsaw from the prisoner of war camp where he had been held after he was arrested by the Germans.

Soon afterwards, the Zabinkis started the difficult process of rebuilding their zoo. Antonina also wrote several children’s books, all of which feature animals in the story. Before Jan died in 1971 he spoke admiringly about his wife, and told a reporter how a “timid housewife” had found the strength to face brutality and hatred.

More articles by:

Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of the 1979 Overseas Press Club of America award for the article “Missing or Disappeared in Argentina: The Desperate Search for Thousands of Abducted Victims.”

April 19, 2018
Ramzy Baroud
Media Cover-up: Shielding Israel is a Matter of Policy
Vijay Prashad
Undermining Brazilian Democracy: the Curious Saga of Lula
Steve Fraser
Class Dismissed: Class Conflict in Red State America
John W. Whitehead
Crimes of a Monster: Your Tax Dollars at Work
Kenn Orphan
Whistling Past the Graveyard
Karl Grossman - TJ Coles
Opening Pandora’s Box: Karl Grossman on Trump and the Weaponization of Space
Colin Todhunter
Behind Theresa May’s ‘Humanitarian Hysterics’: The Ideology of Empire and Conquest
Jesse Jackson
Syrian Strikes is One More step Toward a Lawless Presidency
Michael Welton
Confronting Militarism is Early Twentieth Century Canada: the Woman’s International League for Peace and Freedom
Alycee Lane
On David S. Buckel and Setting Ourselves on Fire
Jennifer Matsui
Our Overlords Reveal Their Top ‘To Do’s: Are YOU Next On Their Kill List?
George Ochenski
Jive Talkin’: On the Campaign Trail With Montana Republicans
Kary Love
Is It Time for A Nice, “Little” Nuclear War?
April 18, 2018
Alan Nasser
Could Student Loans Lead to Debt Prison? The Handwriting on the Wall
Susan Roberts
Uses for the Poor
Alvaro Huerta
I Am Not Your “Wetback”
Jonah Raskin
Napa County, California: the Clash of Oligarchy & Democracy
Robert Hunziker
America’s Dystopian Future
Geoffrey McDonald
“America First!” as Economic War
Jonathan Cook
Robert Fisk’s Douma Report Rips Away Excuses for Air Strike on Syria
Jeff Berg
WW III This Ain’t
Binoy Kampmark
Macron’s Syria Game
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
Katie Fite
Chaos in Urban Canyons – Air Force Efforts to Carve a Civilian Population War Game Range across Southern Idaho
Robby Sherwin
Facebook: This Is Where I Leave You
April 17, 2018
Paul Street
Eight Takeaways on Boss Tweet’s Latest Syrian Missile Spasm
Robert Fisk
The Search for the Truth in Douma
Eric Mann
The Historic 1968 Struggle Against Columbia University
Roy Eidelson
The 1%’s Mind Games: Psychology Gone Bad
John Steppling
The Sleep of Civilization
Patrick Cockburn
Syria Bombing Reveals Weakness of Theresa May
Dave Lindorff
No Indication in the US That the Country is at War Again
W. T. Whitney
Colombia and Cuba:  a Tale of Two Countries
Dean Baker
Why Isn’t the Median Wage for Black Workers Rising?
Linn Washington Jr.
Philadelphia’s Top Cop Defends Indefensible Prejudice in Starbucks Arrest Incident
C. L. Cook
Man in the Glass
Kary Love
“The Mob Boss Orders a Hit and a Pardon”
Lawrence Wittner
Which Nations Are the Happiest―and Why
Dr. Hakim
Where on Earth is the Just Economy that Works for All, Including Afghan Children?
April 16, 2018
Dave Lindorff
President Trump’s War Crime is Worse than the One He Accuses Assad of
Ron Jacobs
War is Just F**kin’ Wrong
John Laforge
Nuclear Keeps on Polluting, Long After Shutdown
Norman Solomon
Missile Attack on Syria Is a Salute to “Russiagate” Enthusiasts, Whether They Like It or Not
Uri Avnery
Eyeless in Gaza   
Barbara Nimri Aziz
Iraq Then, Syria Now
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail