WWII changed the face of the world forever. Even though there have been countless wars since the conclusion of WWII, the regime led by Nazi Germany still stands out as one of the most ruthless and horrific evils the world has ever seen. Countless people lost their lives fighting against tyranny, but so many innocents were lost during the tragedy of the Holocaust.
We've all heard heroic stories of soldiers making the ultimate sacrifice during the war, but there were many heroes that found other ways to contribute and do their part. Some were doctors or engineers, but surprisingly, some were zoologists.
During the late 1920s, Jan Zabinski and Antonina Zabinski met while they were both working at Warsaw University. Antonina was teaching music and working as a secretary when she met Jan, a popular teacher who had recently become the director of the zoo. The two married within a year and the couple couldn't have been happier.
The zoo held about 1,500 animals of various species, including rare elephants, lynx, as well as extremely rare wild Polish Przewalski horses (only 100 of these creatures existed in the world during this time).
By 1937, the zoo had become so renowned that tourists from all over Europe were visiting the facilities to observe and learn about the rare animals that were kept there.
It even became a popular destination for aspiring artists.
However, all of that changed in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. The zoo itself was hit by bombs for no other reason than to cause destruction and havoc. Sadly, many of the animals lost their lives. After the bombing came to an end, German ground troops commenced their phase of the invasion. These troops used the surviving animals for target practice.
Jan and Antonina had been activists before the war, but this information was missed by the Germans when they appointed Jan as the superintendent of Warsaw’s public parks under the occupation. Realizing how lucky they were to be in that position, Jan and Antonina used their authority to help as many people of Warsaw as they could. Through his discussions with the invaders, Jan was able to convince them that he needed access to the city’s Jewish ghettos to take care of the gardens.
Once access was granted, the couple began breeding pigs in the abandoned zoo facilities and brought meat to many of the starving people. They also used the opportunity to smuggle false documents to individuals in the hopes that they might be able to escape. It was risky, but they couldn't just sit and do nothing as their fellow citizens suffered.
Whenever possible, they used empty animal cells to hide people who were fleeing from Nazis.
Many of these people were Jewish civilians, but some were soldiers that survived the invasion. They remained there until safe passage could be obtained out of the country.
In addition to hiding people at the zoo, the Zabinskis also went as far as hiding people in their home. If they saw that danger was ever approaching, Antonina would start playing “Go, Go to Crete!” on the piano. This tune would serve as an alarm telling everyone in the home to hide immediately.
Hundreds of people hid in this basement during the course of the war. Today, the basement is maintained as a museum dedicated to the couple who risked their lives to save those of others. Whether family, friend, or a complete stranger, the Zabinski family took in everyone that they could.
This went on until 1944. It was during this year that Jan joined the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. As a result of his participation, he was arrested and taken to a prison camp. Even with her husband in prison, Antonina continued to take in refugees until the war came to a conclusion.
Miraculously, Jan survived the Nazi prison and was able to witness the reopening of the zoo in 1949. In 1968, Jan and Antonina were both given the titles of Righteous Amongst the Nations by the state of Israel.
Don't forget to SHARE this incredible story with your friends and family!
H/T: Boredom Therapy