Protecting and projecting the legacy of Jan & Antonina Zabinski
The story of Jan and Antonina Zabinski is one of extraordinary bravery, decency and humanitarian spirit at enormous personal risk in the most challenging circumstances possible.
The largely accurate portrayal captured in Diane Ackerman’s book and subsequent 2017 Hollywood movie, The Zookeeper’s Wife, reached millions. But a great many more remain completely unaware of the extraordinary tale of personal heroism, bravery and human kindness that took place within the grounds of Warsaw Zoo during World War II, and their enormous legacy and lessons for wider humanity in rescuing more than 300 people, mostly Jews smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto, at enormous personal risk.
Even fewer are aware that the little zookeeper’s villa at the centre of the story, in the middle of the Warsaw Zoo, still stands today. A powerful but hidden and relatively neglected symbol of human unity and shared purpose, cared for over the years by a small group of people associated with the zoo and with the Zabinski family, on something less than a shoe-string budget.
The newly established Zabinski Foundation aims to restore the villa to a world class museum, educational centre and beacon of humanitarian hope and kindness.
The mission of the new foundation is to protect and project the legacy and the lessons of the wartime deeds of the Zabinskis in Poland and internationally, focusing on the restoration of the villa and its establishment as a fittingly world class educational exhibit and monument to humanitarian duty, including building an extension to the villa for educational, profile building and fundraising activities.
Co-founder of the Warsaw Zoological Gardens, and its director from 1929, Dr Jan Zabinski was highly regarded in zoological circles for developing the institution into one of Europe’s most celebrated and diverse zoological gardens, and lived an idyllic life with his wife Antonina and their young son Ryszard in the zookeeper’s villa, where their daughter Teresa was born during the war.
While both Jan and Antonina have received high recognition and honors in many quarters over the decades, including recognition of Jan by the State of Israel as “Polish Righteous Among Nations” in 1965 and, more recently, the posthumous award of the “Commander’s Cross of the Order of Polonia Restituta” to both of them by the Polish government in 2015, the full tale and message of their deeds…