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September 19, 2014 / 24 Elul, 5774
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Po-Lin

Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife

By: Diane Ackerman

Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co Inc

ISBN: 9780393061727

Hardcover, Pages: 288

$16.29 – $36.00

 


         Every year there seems to be a new bestseller with a Holocaust theme that reveals a new story of heroism in the most horrible of times. The Zookeeper’s Wife by Diane Ackerman is no exception.

 

         For the past 12 years that I have been writing about the Holocaust and Poland for The Jewish Press, I have read and written about many Holocaust stories, interviewed many survivors and seen for myself evidence of the German atrocities. But only recently did I come across the story told in The Zookeeper’s Wife.

 

         In short the story is about the family of the keepers of the Warsaw Zoo and their efforts to save fellow Poles from the Germans.

 

         Many of the animal cages were empty, and the family used the primitive shelters for Jews of the Warsaw Ghetto and Polish Resistance fighters. Taken from the pages of Antonina Zabiniski’s diary, Ms. Ackerman adds many personal details bringing color and vibrancy to a story that was certainly very miserable.

 

         The story goes beyond the zoo as Ackerman takes us into the Warsaw Ghetto and the 1943 Jewish uprising and also describes the Polish revolt against the Nazi occupiers in 1944. She introduces us to such varied figures as Lutz Heck, the duplicitous head of the Berlin Zoo; Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira, spiritual head of the ghetto; and the leaders of Zegota, the Polish organization set up to help the Jews.

 

        Ackerman reveals other rescuers, such as Dr. Mada Walter, who helped many Jews escape, giving them lessons on how to appear Aryan and not attract notice.

 

         I have often been asked how I can read another Holocaust memoir. My answer is if I read every story by every survivor I would still be missing six million stories to tell the complete horror of the Holocaust. The Zookeeper’s Wife adds another chapter to the story that cannot be forgotten.

 

         Next week April 30, there will be a reading and book signing with Diane Ackerman at the Kosciuszko Foundation, 15 East 16th Street in N.Y. The event, with the participation of Tovah Feldshuh will be a benefit for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews.

 

         It has just been announced that Rabbi Brian Lurie, a former Jewish Federation CEO was appointed the lead fund-raiser for a Polish Jewish History Museum.

 

         Rabbi Brian Lurie, the former head of the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, was named the chairman of international development for the Museum of the History of Polish Jews slated to open in Warsaw in 2011.

 

         Officials of the museum, which will be located in the former Warsaw Ghetto, hope it will become one of the three most important Jewish memorials in the world, joining the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington and Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.

 

         Lurie, who currently is the president of the Alfred and Hanna Fromm Fund and co-chairman of the Inter-Agency Task Force on Israeli-Arab issues, founded the San Francisco Contemporary Jewish Museum in 1984. He helped raise nearly $1 billion as the executive vice president of the United Jewish Appeal to move a million Soviet Jews to Israel during Operation Exodus.

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More Articles from Shmuel Ben Eliezer
Arnold Fine 2008

I REMEMBER WHEN I first started working at the Jewish Press 18 years ago, Arnie who was in charge of the newsroom, took me under his wing…

The official beginning of World War II was September 1, 1939. On that day German soldiers invaded Gdansk after bombarding the city with a military warship. As part of the Polish Government’s official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland’s Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based “Shavei Israel” organization held a special ceremony yesterday in the Gdansk synagogue to commemorate the outbreak of the war, which paved the way for the Holocaust.

The official beginning of World War II was September 1, 1939. On that day German soldiers invaded Gdansk after bombarding the city with a military warship. As part of the Polish Government’s official series of events marking seven decades since the start of World War II, Poland’s Jewish community and the Jerusalem-based “Shavei Israel” organization held a special ceremony yesterday in the Gdansk synagogue to commemorate the outbreak of the war, which paved the way for the Holocaust.

September 1, 1939 is the date on which Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. While it should be said that the start of the war was not the start of the Shoah, which actually began with the rise of Nazism in 1933, it was a major milestone in the annals of the Holocaust. Within the first few days of the war, Germany had conquered and/or bombed much of Poland, including the capital, Warsaw.

September 1, 1939 is the date on which Germany invaded Poland, starting WWII. While it should be said that the start of the war was not the start of the Shoah, which actually began with the rise of Nazism in 1933, it was a major milestone in the annals of the Holocaust. Within the first few days of the war, Germany had conquered and/or bombed much of Poland, including the capital, Warsaw.

In September 1939 the Germans started establishing ghettos in the occupied territory of Poland. Ghettos played an important role in the Jewish extermination policy. They were filled with Polish and Western European Jewish deportees. The ghettos differed in times of existence, size, internal organization, and living conditions. The Germans called them ” death boxes” (Todeskiste). The city of Lodz belonged to the Wartheland District and the Germans changed its name into Litzmannstadt.

In September 1939 the Germans started establishing ghettos in the occupied territory of Poland. Ghettos played an important role in the Jewish extermination policy. They were filled with Polish and Western European Jewish deportees. The ghettos differed in times of existence, size, internal organization, and living conditions. The Germans called them ” death boxes” (Todeskiste). The city of Lodz belonged to the Wartheland District and the Germans changed its name into Litzmannstadt.

Growing up in the U.S. during the second half of the 20th century, I, along with most people, know very little about the First World War. The little that I did know was about the trench warfare in France and Belgium. The Eastern Front was barely, if ever, mentioned and usually stated that it ended with the Russian Revolution and overthrowing the Czar.

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