Select language, opens an overlay
The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper's Wife

A War Story

Book - 2008 | First paperback edition
Average Rating:
Rate this:
The true story of how the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo saved hundreds of people from Nazi hands. When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw--and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Żabiński began smuggling Jews into empty cages. Another dozen "guests" hid inside the Żabińskis' villa, emerging after dark for dinner, socializing, and, during rare moments of calm, piano concerts. Jan, active in the Polish resistance, kept ammunition buried in the elephant enclosure and stashed explosives in the animal hospital. Meanwhile, Antonina kept her unusual household afloat, caring for both its human and its animal inhabitants--otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes--and keeping alive an atmosphere of play and innocence even as Europe crumbled around her.--From publisher description.
Publisher: New York : W.W. Norton, 2008
Edition: First paperback edition
Copyright Date: ©2007
ISBN: 9780393354256
Call Number: 940.5318 A182z 2008
Characteristics: 368 pages, 8 unnumbered pages of plates : illustrations ; 21 cm


From Library Staff

When Germany invaded Poland, Stuka bombers devastated Warsaw--and the city's zoo along with it. With most of their animals dead, zookeepers Jan and Antonina Żabiński began smuggling Jews into empty cages.

From the critics

Community Activity


Add a Comment
Mar 23, 2020

My sentiments resonate with some of the other reviewers. This book simply fell flat on its nose, with not a chance of ever getting up.
A barrage of facts and tidbits of useless information, that distracts from a possibly really good story; but it seems that the authors herself got lost in the minutia. Even my tween asked, as to why she feels to need to explain everything that should be common knowledge. Yes... why? I have absolutely no foggy idea, why this book is so popular, but 3.5 stars should give you a good indicator - you can skip this one.

Oct 31, 2019

I really wanted to like this book. The story itself is compelling. But the writing was just so painful to read. At one point, there were about 3 pages with nothing but a list of beetles.

May 02, 2019

The author needed a good editor with a blue pencil to trim this historical account from 320 pages to 250 pages (the author goes off on too many tangents). With many bizarre words and phrases, I checked Diane Ackerman's background in Wikipedia to confirm her mother tongue was English (and that the book was not translated). For some reason, this story of catastrophic circumstances just didn't resonate with this reader. The book concludes with brief endnotes, a lengthy bibliography (although some memoirs and histories mentioned in the text are absent); and an index.

Feb 22, 2019

I read this for book club. I wasn't really looking forward to another WWII book but it was really interesting. It's more of a collection of stories and ideas rather than about one main person. If you are interested in history it's a good read. I learned a lot and feel that it was worth reading just for that. At times the sheer horror of what was happening came across so strongly that I teared up. I liked the author's poetic language and ability to take facts and make it interesting to read. I haven't watched the movie, but I don't think it's like the book at all.

Charming and engrossing book. This was a treat to read, and I now want to visit Warsaw.

Dec 03, 2018

I struggled to read this, I found it extremely slow and I felt like it could have been half it's length and still told the same story.

Dec 02, 2018

Although the style of this book is not the best, the story itself is worth reading. Based on a true story, it shows the courage of a couple of Polish zookeepers to save over 300 Jews from death during World War II. Getting caught meant certain death and yet their principles and determination gave them the courage to act according to their conscience. For Hollywood to make this into a motion picture is a testament to a cause which is unfortunately still current.

Mar 27, 2018

Back when Jerry Springer had a serious talk show (real topics with real guests), he had an episode where he reunited Jews who sought escape from the Holocaust with the families who risked their lives to shelter them until the war was over. At the end of the episode, Springer related the story of his parents' escape from Amsterdam to London ... and concluded by saying that real heroes aren't those who are in the line of duty or help people get out of burning cars. "Sometimes," he said, "they just open their doors."

"The Zookeeper's Wife" tells the story of two of the many "Righteous Gentiles" who put their careers and lives on the line to help Jews, in this case occupied Poland ... where the mere act of giving a Jew a glass of water earned one the death penalty. Having had their zoo's animals raided by the Nazis shortly after the occupation, the couple decided to open their doors to more than 300 people, mostly Jews but also some resistance fighters - and the creative ways they made sure their guests stayed alive. Antonina Żabińska has sometimes been called the female Oskar Schindler, and her story would be incredible except for the fact it is true.

A great story about heroism in the darkest places and times, although it is graphic at times.

Mar 05, 2018

As I'm in the middle of this book, that it is so difficult to get through to the next page and finally reading reviews on it I'm realizing I should have done that first. I knew this was a great book from this background but the author makes this a very very very difficult read.

Feb 20, 2018

I read a lot of books from this time period, but this is the first one that I definitely struggled to finish. The writing style was full of historical 'don't necessarily need-to-know' facts surrounded by suppositions about what the main characters 'may have' said or done. I haven't seen the movie, but maybe I would enjoy it more than I did the book.

View All Comments


Add Notices
AbigailCurious Jan 27, 2015

Violence: It describes the brutality of the nazis, sometimes in great detail.

AbigailCurious Jan 27, 2015

Frightening or Intense Scenes: It has moments where you can be truly frightened, and believing that characters may have died.


Add a Quote
May 02, 2019

"A zoo without animals equaled a waste of land to the Nazis, who decided to build a fur farm on the [Warsaw Zoo] grounds. Not only would the fur warm German soldiers fighting on the eastern front, ... extras could be sold to help finance the war. For efficiency they put an elderly bachelor Pole in charge of it [who was] used to living alone with fur farm animals. ... By far the most eccentric human in the [zoo's staff house], "Fox Man" arrived with a female cat, Balbina ... every time Balbina had kittens, Fox Man would snatch them from the basket and replace them with newborn foxes for her to nurse. ... According to breeders, a female fox should only nurse a few pups at one time, to ensure all grow thick, healathy coats; using Balbina as a wet nurse for the extra pups struck [Fox Man] as an ideal if somewhat impish solution." (p. 190-191)

Apr 24, 2017

“Dozens of statues and monuments grace Warsaw's streets, because Poland is a country half submerged in its heavily invaded past, fed by progress, but always partly mourning.” - p. 322


Add Age Suitability
AbigailCurious Jan 27, 2015

AbigailCurious thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


Add a Summary

There are no summaries for this title yet.

Explore Further

Browse by Call Number


Subject Headings


Find it at MCL

To Top