During the horryfing times of the Second World War and the Holocaust, there were many brave Poles who helped Jews escape from their cruel fate.
Poles are the biggest nation group awarded the title Righteous Among the Nations by the state of Israel.
One of the most touching and famous stories of Poles rescuing Jews is the story of the Director of Warsaw Zoo, Jan Żabiński, and his wife Antonia, the main characters of a very successful book, the “Zookeepers Wife”. Ironically, their story is better known in the U.S. than in Poland.
We all hope that it is going to change after the movie based on the best-selling novel of Diane Ackerman hits the cinemas in March 2017.
The book and the movie tell the story of Jan and Antonia Żabińscy, who worked at the Warsaw Zoo from 1930. Antonia was well-known for her great liking for animals, she even established an animal nursery in their villa in the zoo. Their happy life ended in 1939 together with the sudden German invasion into Poland. Just like almost the entire city, the zoo was destroyed in the bombings and finally closed under German occupation. However, Jan and Antonia continued to live in the villa, while the zoo was transformed into a pig and fur farm.
They were both active members of a very well-developed Polish resistance movement and they finally engaged into the action of rescuing Jews by hiding them in the zoo. Throughout the whole period of the war, over 300 Jews found shelter there. Antnonia not only took care of the people who were hiding in the zoo, but also she did her best to maintain the semblance of the pre-war life in the villa by still keeping animals there – the famous badger, otters, lynxes. Jan Żabiński joined the Polish army and fought in the Warsaw Uprising of 1944. They both survived the war and stayed in the zoo after it had finished.
A few years ago, the original building of the Żabiński villa was opened for visitors of the Warsaw Zoo and is an important part of all tours following the steps of Warsaw Jews during the second World War.
Let’s hope that the latest movie will enocourage more people to visit Warsaw and discover the fate of Jan and Antonina Żabiński as well as other Poles who risked their lives to rescue Jews during the Second World War.