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