Exhibition recalls zoo wardens who hid dozens of Jews

Updated: 2015-04-13 07:34

By Agencies in Warsaw(China Daily)

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It was World War II, Warsaw was under German occupation, and the wife of the director of the Warsaw zoo spotted troops approaching the white stucco villa that she and her family inhabited on the zoo grounds.

According to plan, she went straight to her piano and began to play a lively tune from an operetta by Jacques Offenbach, a signal to Jews being sheltered in the house that they should be quiet and not leave their hiding places.

That scenario, repeated over years of war, was one of the tricks that allowed Jan and Antonina Zabinski to save the lives of dozens of Jews, a dramatic chapter in Poland's wartime drama that was virtually unknown until an American author, Diane Ackerman, published a book about the couple in 2007 called The Zookeeper's Wife.

The Zabinskis' remarkable wartime actions, which included hiding Jews in animal enclosures, seem certain to gain even more renown with the inauguration on Saturday of a permanent exhibition in the villa. The two-story Bauhaus, built in the 1930s, is still on the grounds of the Warsaw Zoo.

The exhibition pays homage to the couple with photos of them, sometimes with their beloved zoo animals, in rooms recreated to evoke the wartime period. There are sculptures of animals made by a Jewish artist, Magdalena Gross, who stayed there during the war. Visitors will also be able to see basement chambers where the Jews took shelter, as well as a narrow tunnel they crawled through to reach animal enclosures.

The development of the exhibition is the work of the zoo and From the Depths, an organization that works to preserve Jewish memory.

The zoo itself also was the site of horrors during the war. In September 1939, when the Germans invaded the country, they bombed the zoo, killing many animals and wreaking destruction that allowed others to escape.

Also on Saturday, more than 80 survivors of the Buchenwald concentration camp observed a minute's silence, 70 years to the day since it was liberated.

Several US army veterans and representatives of the nearby eastern German town of Weimar joined the elderly survivors from Europe and countries including Israel, the United States, Australia and Canada for the commemoration.

Several of the participants in the ceremony donned replicas of the uniforms worn in the camp, and some wept, a journalist from the DPA agency reported.

Buchenwald was the largest concentration camp on German soil. Between 1937 and 1945, the Nazis held almost a quarter of a million people there.

An estimated 56,000 people died in Buchenwald, either killed by the Nazis or dying of illness, cold or starvation. Thousands of Jews were among the dead, but Gypsies, political opponents of the Nazis, homosexuals and Soviet prisoners-of-war were also killed.


(China Daily 04/13/2015 page11)