The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story is about Antonina Zabinski and her husband.  They smuggled over 300 Jews and a number of Polish resistance members through their villa at the Warsaw Zoo to safety during the German occupation of Poland during World War II. 

The story was very moving, and the Zabinski's were certainly brave and selfless since their actions could have resulted in their deaths and the death of their son.  It is a book that brings the cruelty of Nazism and war in general to life for someone who has been fortunate to live an easy life free of war. 

There was also a great sense of hope for the kindness of the human race through stories of sacrifice.  The most moving for me was the story of Henryk Goldszmit, a pediatrician who had the opportunity to escape from the Jewish Ghetto, but stayed to tend to children in an orphanage.  This passage where he willingly boards a train bound for an extermination camp with the children was particularly moving to me (p. 185):

Anticipating their calamity and fright when deportation day came (August 6, 1942), he joined them aboard the train bound for Treblinka, because, he said, he knew his presence would calm them–"You do not leave a sick child in the night, and you do not leave children at a time like this."

While I think the story Ackerman tells is a moving and important one, I think she let herself get in the way of the story with some overly flowery prose.  She had access to great primary source material, including Antonina's diary, which I didn't feel she took full advantage of.  I wanted to hear more about the actual people who she saved, but I didn't get to read that.  I would love to be able to read Antonina's diary in it's original form without Ackerman's filter.

I highly suggest this book, even though I got a bit frustrated with the author at times.  It is a story of two people (and many others) who should be remembered for their bravery and kindness.

#11 in 2008

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3 thoughts on “The Zookeeper’s Wife: A War Story

  1. I recently added this to my to be read list after listening to the Barnes and Noble Meet the Writers podcast with Diane Ackerman about this book. It sounded really interesting. I've been reading "A Natural History of the Senses" by her. I love it, and her flowery writing works really well with the subject matter.

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