Jan Żabiński

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Jan Żabiński.

Jan Żabiński (8 April 1897, Warsaw - 26 July 1974, Warsaw) was a Polish zoologist and zootechnician, recognized by the State of Israel to be one of the Righteous Among the Nations.[1] He was director of the Warsaw Zoo before the outbreak of World War II and additionally superintendent of the city's public parks during the Nazi occupation. He and his wife Antonina and their son Ryszard used their personal villa and the zoo itself to shelter hundreds of displaced Jews. Additionally he fought during the Warsaw Uprising, was subsequently injured and became a prisoner of war. Żabiński also authored approximately 60 popular science books.[citation needed]

Polish underground activities[edit]

Żabiński was a Polish agricultural engineer and zoologist who saved many Jews in Warsaw. On the eve of the German occupation, Żabiński was director of the Warsaw Zoo and a teacher of geography in the private gymnasium of Kreczmara. The Germans appointed him superintendent of the city's public parks as well. Availing himself of the opportunity to visit the Warsaw ghetto, ostensibly to inspect the state of the flora within the ghetto walls, Żabiński maintained contact with prewar Jewish colleagues and friends and helped them escape and find shelter on the "Aryan" side of the city.

Many cages in the zoo had been emptied of animals during the September 1939 air assault on Warsaw, and Żabiński decided to utilize them as hiding places for fleeing Jews. Over the course of three years, hundreds of Jews found temporary shelter in these abandoned animal cells, located on the eastern bank of the Vistula River, until they were able to relocate to permanent places of refuge elsewhere. In addition, close to a dozen Jews were sheltered in Żabiński's two-story private home on the zoo's grounds. In this dangerous undertaking he was helped by his wife, Antonina, a recognized author, and their young son, Ryszard, who nourished and looked after the needs of the many distraught Jews in their care. At first, Żabiński paid from his own funds to subsidize the maintenance costs; then money was received through Żegota: Council to Aid Jews.

An active member of the Polish underground Armia Krajowa (Home Army), Żabiński participated in the Warsaw Polish Uprising in August and September 1944. Upon its suppression, he was taken as a prisoner to Germany. His wife continued his work, looking after the needs of some of the Jews left behind in the ruins of the city.


On October 30, 1968 a tree planting ceremony was held at Yad Vashem honoring Righteous Among the Nations, including Jan and Antonina Żabiński.[1]

In 2007, the U.S. writer Diane Ackerman published The Zookeeper's Wife, a book about the Żabiński family's wartime activities that draws upon Antonina Żabińska's diary. The Polish film director Maciej Dejczer has announced plans for a film about Żabiński's wartime activities.[2]


  1. ^ a b "Hiding in Zoo Cages: Jan & Antonina Zabinski, Poland". Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority. Retrieved 2013-09-02. 
  2. ^ Polscy reżyserzy planują filmy o II Wojnie Światowej - Wiadomość - FILMWEB.pl

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