Monday, August 16, 2010

The Zookeeper's Wife

The Zookeeper's Wife, by Diane Ackerman, is subtitled "A War Story." It tells the true story of Polish zookeepers Jan and Antonina Zabinski (pictured below), who lived in Warsaw during the rise and fall of Nazism. They saved over 300 Jews from death in their house and in animal cages.

Using Antonina's diaries and other first-person accounts as a guide, Ackerman tells the historical facts while also taking us into the heart and mind of Antonina. She who was a lover of animals became a lover of victimized human beings. This book reveals both the brutality of German war criminals and the humanity of individuals who would have otherwise been lost to history. At times fearful for her life and that of her husband and son, but always courageous, Antonina Zabinski is an inspiring model of grace and compassion to the suffering.

For those who don't know much about the Warsaw Ghetto or the Jewish Uprising of 1943, this book would serve as an excellent introduction. Ackerman writes in a somewhat detached way of the atrocities suffered by the Jews and Poles, letting the facts speak for themselves. The horrors of those years are utterly inconceivable to me. At one point Ackerman writes this:
Then, one terrible day, a gray rainfall settled on the zoo, a long, slow rain of ash carried on a westerly wind from the burning Jewish Quarter just across the river. Everyone at the villa had friends trapped in that final stage of annihilating Warsaw's 450,000 Jews.
Clearly, the Holocaust is glaring proof of man's total depravity. The brutal, senseless snuffing out of human life, Polish culture and history by the Nazis shows why the even greater atrocity of the cross was required as payment for fallen man's sin.

The Zookeeper's Wife is in many ways a historical recasting of Milton's Paradise Lost. Thankfully, the story is not finished. Jesus is making all things new (Revelation 21:5). As Tolkien put it, everything sad is going to come untrue.

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