I’ve been reading a lot of World War Two books lately, but The Zookeeper’s Wife was exceptionally moving. Perhaps because it is the true story of the Zabinski family and their deserted zoo, which they used to shelter over 300 Jews throughout the German occupation of Poland.
This book has been made into a movie, which is how I first heard about it. Anytime I see a trailer I like that says “based on the book by…” I immediately have to look up the book and read it, and I was not disappointed.
In addition to recounting the story of hiding hundreds of people, Ackerman, and Antonina through her quoted diaries, compares the extreme violence of the time with the kindness and violence of the animal world. It’s an interesting comparison, and the theme of love surviving hatred is strong throughout the book.
During one particularly moving account, near the end of the war Antonina is confronted by scavenging Russians, tearing through her house in search of valuables. She uses her limited Russian to communicate with them, pointing to her tiny infant daughter and telling them loudly, “Not allowed! Your mother! Your wife! Your sister! Do you understand?” In this way she shames them into remembering their own families-and the gang leaves in a rush, but not after the leader gives her candy for her child and a ring for her bare fingers. She thought back over the incident and reasoned that if such words have the power to calm an angry mob, there was a hope for their future after all.
I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in seeing a portrait of what everyday life in occupied Poland was like, both the dangers and the joys. The inclusion of excerpts from Antonina’s diary, along with many other first hand accounts, really makes the story for me. This one will be sticking with me for awhile.