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Monday, October 23, 2017

Photo Essay: Inside the Story of ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

Photo Essay: Inside the Story of ‘The Zookeeper’s Wife’

April 17, 2017 in Featured, Jewish World, Latest
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When the Nazis invaded Poland, Jan Żabiński was the director of the Warsaw Zoo, founded in 1928 on 99 acres in the central part of the city. The Nazis shipped most of the animals to Germany, and in the years that followed, Jan and his wife, Antonina, turned the zoo into a refuge for hundreds of Jews who had escaped the ghetto. They hid some in former animal cells and others inside their home on the zoo’s property. Jan and Antonina, who died in 1974 and 1971, respectively, are the inspiration for Diane Ackerman’s 2007 book, The Zookeeper’s Wife, as well as the film of the same name, now playing in theaters and starring Jessica Chastain as Antonina.

In 2014, Moment editor Nadine Epstein visited Warsaw as a guest of the foreign ministry of Poland and was given a private tour of the Żabińskis’ home, which was closed to the public. Her guide was Jan Maciej Rembiszewski, the zoo’s recently retired director. The house is not a proper museum, Rembiszewski says, though it is used for special events and small concerts. Explore Epstein’s photos of the zoo—along with the Żabiński’s home—below.

Antonina loved to play the piano, and the family hosted many musical evenings with their Jewish guests.
Antonina was a writer, and her original typewriter is on display in the home.
Antonina was a writer, and her original typewriter is on display in the home.
A lovely bedroom on the second floor of the house, decorated with animal skins.
A lovely bedroom on the second floor of the house, decorated with animal skins.
The Żabińskis and their young son, Ryszard, lived in this light-filled home, completed in 1929. Later zoo directors also lived there, although now the home is used for special events.
One of the basement rooms of the house where Jews were hidden.
One of the basement rooms of the house where Jews were hidden.
A tunnel system under the home allowed Jews to escape when Nazi inspectors paid visits. Glass covers one of the exits.
In 1965, the couple was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews during the Holocaust.
In 1965, the couple was recognized as Righteous Among the Nations for saving Jews during the Holocaust.
A photograph of Antonina Żabiński hangs on the wall.
A photograph of Antonina Żabiński hangs on the wall.
Jan Maciej Rembiszewski is a retired zoo director.
Jan Maciej Rembiszewski is a retired zoo director.
A scene from the bucolic zoo, which harks back to another era.
A scene from the bucolic zoo, which harks back to another era.
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