The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman — Book Recommendation


Author: Diane Ackerman

Publisher: New York, Norton, 2007

Genre: Adult non-fiction

Audience Age: Adult

Themes/topics: World War II, Poland, Hiding Jews during World War II

Opening Sentences: Summer, 1935. At dawn in an outlying district of Warsaw, sunlight swarmed around the trunks of blooming linden trees and crept up the white walls of a 1930s stucco and glass villa where the director and his wife slept …

Synopsis: Despite the idyllic opening of the book, the story soon becomes heart-rending and filled with terror. It is the eye-opening true story of Antonina Zabinski and her husband Jan, who were the resident keepers of the Warsaw Zoo.

When World War II broke out, much of their zoo was destroyed, the animals killed (some right before their eyes) or taken away. Their zoo became instead a hiding place for Jews — or “Guests” as the Zabinskis called them.

Jan worked in the Underground, and was able to spirit many Jews out of the Warsaw Ghetto (I’d heard that name, but hadn’t realized all that the term referred to.) It was horrifying to read of all the atrocities that were visited on people — and amazing to see how especially Antonina was able to keep a calm facade, and nurture those under her care, even under very difficult circumstances.

They managed to save up to 300 people, even though there were German soldiers around the zoo property much of the time. I am grateful I came upon this book while hunting for a Z book for my blog.

For Further Enrichment: Learn more about Antonina and Jan Zabinski from the website of Yad Veshem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center and from

Learn more about the Warsaw Ghetto from the website of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and from Yad Veshem. (There are many other sources I could have included. If you want to learn more, a simple internet search of the term Warsaw Ghetto will turn up many links.)

The author’s website is here.

Reviews: Read the Publishers Weekly review here, and the New York Times review here.

A movie has been made of this story. It is currently available on Netflix. See the trailer here.

Availability: Both book and DVD are available.

1 thought on “The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman — Book Recommendation”

  1. Each story that comes from that terrible time is unique. I hadn’t heard about the zookeepers hiding and rescuing Jews. This sounds like a book that would really interest me.

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