Warsaw Zoo to be renamed in honor of director, his wife, who saved Jews
Warsaw City Council voted on Thursday to rename the city’s zoological garden in memory of Jan Żabiński, director of the Warsaw Zoo, and Antonina Żabińska, his wife, who used the zoo’s facilities to house Jews from Nazi persecution during World War II.
The Warsaw Zoo published a post on its Facebook profile, clearly satisfied with this result.
“Thanks to our initiative, patrons of the capital [zoological] garden will be individuals who have forever marked the history of this place.
The name will take effect on January 1, 2023.
“It will be a wonderful start to the year when, on March 11, 2023, we will celebrate the 95th anniversary of the opening of a zoo in the Praga district of Warsaw.”
Jan Żabiński (1987-1974) was responsible for the organization of the Warsaw Zoological Garden and served as its director since its opening in 1929. The German occupiers kept it in a caretaker role, while taking many animals into the zoos of the Third Reich. . Żabiński worked with the Polish resistance, the Home Army, and used the Warsaw Zoo facilities to store Home Army weapons. His involvement in the Home Army came to light after the war, and he was fired from his position as zoo director in 1951, despite his Herculean efforts to rebuild the zoo.
But Żabiński and his wife, Antonina Żabińska née Erdman (1908-1971), are best known for their role in offering sanctuary to Jews who escaped from the Warsaw ghetto. It was a risky business, because under the Nazi occupation, anyone offering any assistance to the Jews risked being murdered, often along with their family and sometimes even their neighbors.
Hundreds of ghetto escapees passed through the Warsaw Zoological Garden, hiding in the villa on the grounds of the zoo where the German occupiers allowed the Żabiński couple to continue residing. Among the survivors were Rachela Auerbach, a writer, Magdalena Gross, a sculptor, and Samuel Koenigswein, a boxer, with his family. The Yad Vashem Institute recognized their contribution to rescuing Jews from the Holocaust and awarded the couple the title of Righteous Among the Nations of the World.
American author Diane Ackerman published “The Zookeeper’s Wife”, a non-fiction account of Żabiński’s heroic deeds, in 2007. The book was adapted into a film, released in 2017, starring Jessica Chastain as Antonina and Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh as Jan, although he fictionalized large parts of the story .
PAP, DVT World