This house at Warsaw Zoo is where the head-keeper and his family used to live, an otherwise unassuming building. But, during the Second World War, this is where Jan Żabiński and Antonina Żabińska hid Jews to save them from being killed or sent to concentration camps. Jan Żabiński served as the Director of the Zoo between 1929 and 1939, when he was given the role of looking after the city parks. This gave him access to the Warsaw Ghetto and he helped many Jews escape, placing himself in huge danger.
Some of the Jews were hidden in the cages where the animals were once held, now most of them had been killed by the Nazis for fear that they would escape. A few Jews were also hidden in the cellars of Żabiński’s house and there was a cellar which linked to a tunnel. This tunnel came out in an area of trees, so if the Nazis raided the house then the Jews could escape and hide above aground.
Both Jan and Antonina were later awarded the huge honour of Righteous Among the Nations, those who had taken a substantial risk to try and save members of the Jewish community. Jan returned to his role as Director of the Zoo in 1945, where he continued until 1951. The regime of Józef Cyrankiewicz saw an end to that, Jan who had fought courageously with the Home Army in the Warsaw Uprising was fired from his role because of that loyalty to his country, which conflicted with the communist influence from the Soviet Union.
However, the bravery of Jan and Antonina came to the attention of the world primarily after the publication of the Zookeeper’s Wife, which was turned into a film in 2017.