Title: The Zookeeper’s Wife
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Co Inc
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.