Jan and Antonina Żabiński

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Jan Żabiński.

Jan Żabiński (8 April 1897 – 26 July 1974, Warsaw) and Antonina Żabińska (pl) née Erdman (1908–1971) were a married Christian couple from Warsaw,[1] recognized by the State of Israel as the Polish Righteous Among the Nations for their heroic rescue of Jews during the Holocaust in occupied Poland. Jan Żabiński was a zoologist and zootechnician by profession, a scientist, and organizer and director of the renowned Warsaw Zoo before and during World War II.[2] He became director of the Zoo before the outbreak of war but during the occupation of Poland also held a prestigious function of the Superintendent of the city's public parks in 1939–1945.[3]

Jan 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. After his liberation Żabiński became a member of the State Commission for the Preservation of Nature (Państwowa Rada Ochrony Przyrody). He authored approximately 60 popular science books.[3]

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 cages on the eastern bank of the Vistula River until finding 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 their 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 Żabińska.[2]

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.[4]

A film about the couple based on the book by Ackerman, The Zookeeper's Wife, was filmed in 2015 and released on March 31, 2017, with American actress Jessica Chastain portraying Antonina and Belgian actor Johan Heldenbergh portraying Jan.[5]


  1. ^ Zofia Gasiorowska-Szmydtowa, Rocznik literacki 1971, wyd. PIW, Warszawa 1973 (pp: 652-653). OCLC 799305388
  2. ^ a b "Hiding in Zoo Cages: Jan & Antonina Zabinski, Poland". Yad Vashem Remembrance Authority. Retrieved 2017-05-12. 
  3. ^ a b "Żabiński Jan". Internetowa encyklopedia PWN. Retrieved 2006-11-18. 
  4. ^ Polscy reżyserzy planują filmy o II Wojnie Światowej - Wiadomość - FILMWEB.pl
  5. ^ Chastain will play accessed 12-26-2015

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