On 11th of March 1928 , had place a special event – Grand opening of Warsaw Zoo. Its collection was then 475 of animal specimens, of which about ¾ were birds, and ¼ were mammals. A garden for the first two weeks have been visited by more than 6,5 thousand people. After nearly a year died from pneumonia, the first Director of the Garden – Wenanty Burdziński. On 19th of June 1943 the position was entrusted to a young, talented zoologist – Jan Żabiński.
Jan and his bride, Antonina sacrificed all their time to develop and modernize the facilities. The zoo received the title of international. In 1932 Żabińscy together with their son moved to a villa near the cages of wild animals. The apartment became kind of a nursery for small animals, which for health reasons (or others) cannot stayed in their cages.
On 3rd of September 1939 first bombs fell on the garden. Many animals died or fled. Those who survived German soldiers killed for meat, for the inhabitants of Warsaw and the most valuable instances were taken out to the Reich. At the begging, they dedicated the institution to the farming of pigs, and then after an epidemic of dysentery – was changed into allotments. But still of these area took care Jan Żabiński.
Due to the fact that pigs who were at the zoo need something to eat, Jan received permission to move freely around Warsaw for collecting food waste. The permission also applied to the area of the ghetto. He could hire people to help. Jan used this situation: brought into the ghetto food, conveyed messages, and after a while began to take people out.
Daughter of Żabińscys’, Teresa, recalls: „the Initiative actually came from my father. In General, all began simply with the fact that the parents had in the ghetto a lot of friends and thought about how they can help them. At the beginning they didn’t thought about any organized action. Then the circle began to expand and they began to help other people.”
Some people whom Jan helped to escape, stayed in zoo and for some it was just a stop before moving to different safe houses. When the villa was approached by German officers – who often came to the garden to walk or to talk about animals, Antonina was seated to the piano and began to play an Aria „Beauty Helen” of Offenbach operetta.
It was a sign for saved Jews to hide in the basement. The next track signaled that they had to run through the tunnel to the garden to hide in the empty cages. Despite these system during time of the occupation have happened many dangerous situations.
Once at Żabińskich appeared a drunk officer and ordered Antonina to play something on the piano for him. The woman began to play a „Beauty Helen” what upset the officer. The man sat down and started playing Revolutionary by Chopin. This situation carried a dual danger: first – someone could leave the lair and come in the living room, and second, playing Chopin at the time was prohibited, so if some officers outside heard the melody, they could appear in the middle of a search.
Marriage saved about 100 people. Among them were, in particular: Woodcarver Magdalena Gross, writer Rachela Auerbach, family Kenigswein, entomologist Szymon Tenenbaum. The Jews called the Żabińskich’s house „the Villa under a crazy star”.
On 21st of September 1965, in appreciation for their heroic posture, the Institute Yad Vashem awarded Jan and Antonina Żabiński with the title of Righteous among the Nations of the World. When after the ceremony someone asked, why they helped the Jews, Jan said, „we just felt that we needed to. We could not imagine doing different. Simple human decency”.
- T. Gołąb, Ratowali Żydów w zoo, „Gość Niedzielny”, wydanie z 08.04.2015 r., także: [strona internetowa:] http://warszawa.gosc.pl/doc/2423998.Ratowali-Zydow-w-zoo, dostęp: 06.04.2017 r.
- P. Halicki, Niezwykła historia willi Żabińskich. Uratowali setki Żydów, [strona internetowa:] http://warszawa.onet.pl/niezwykla-historia-willi-zabinskich-uratowali-setki-zydow/x4p0vd, dostęp: 06.04.2017 r., [Onet Warszawa, 16.04.2015 r.].
- P. Kołodziej, A. Polit, Zwykła ludzka przyzwoitość, „Raport 2016: Sprawiedliwi”, wydanie z czerwca 2016 r., nr 2.
- Ludzie, których warto pamiętać, „Rzeczpospolita”, wydanie z 17.09.2008 r.
- Oficjalna strona internetowa Warszawskiego Ogrodu Zoologicznego: http://zoo.waw.pl/o-nas/informacje/historia.html, dostęp: 06.04.2017 r.
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