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.”

September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
Jeff Ballinger
Nike and Colin Kaepernick: Fronting the Bigots’ Team
David Rosen
Why Stop at Roe? How “Settled Law” Can be Overturned
Gary Olson
Pope Francis and the Battle Over Cultural Terrain
Nick Pemberton
Donald The Victim: A Product of Post-9/11 America
Ramzy Baroud
The Veiled Danger of the ‘Dead’ Oslo Accords
Kevin Martin
U.S. Support for the Bombing of Yemen to Continue
Robert Fisk
A Murder in Aleppo
Robert Hunziker
The Elite World Order in Jitters
Ben Dangl
After 9/11: The Staggering Economic and Human Cost of the War on Terror
Charles Pierson
Invade The Hague! Bolton vs. the ICC
Robert Fantina
Trump and Palestine
Daniel Warner
Hubris on and Off the Court
John Kendall Hawkins
Boning Up on Eternal Recurrence, Kubrick-style: “2001,” Revisited
Haydar Khan
Set Theory of the Left
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail