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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 545

The Polish Resistance Movement

While Ackerman focuses specifically on Antonina Żabiński, she cannot tell the zookeeper's wife's tale without explaining the Polish Resistance Movement. Jan is the one with the connections to begin using the zoo as a hiding place and tells a journalist years later that he loved the...

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The Polish Resistance Movement

While Ackerman focuses specifically on Antonina Żabiński, she cannot tell the zookeeper's wife's tale without explaining the Polish Resistance Movement. Jan is the one with the connections to begin using the zoo as a hiding place and tells a journalist years later that he loved the allure of taking risks and conquering normal human fears. While he was not a member of the official Polish military, Jan most likely saw more combat than many members of the military. Of all the resistance movements in Europe during the war, Poland's was arguably the most effective. While they eventually lost badly to the Germans in the Warsaw Uprising, they successfully carried out numerous acts of sabotage and daring rescues of sympathizers and Jews. Ackerman's focus on the resistance movement exemplifies the courage of the Poles during the war and also provides readers with a more extensive knowledge of an important part of Poland's World War II history.

Animal Versus Human Nature

As a naturalist writer, Ackerman devotes much of the book to describing the nature of the various animals found in the Żabińskis' zoo. She then applies her knowledge of the natural world to human nature. In Chapter 16, Ackerman writes that the animal world "thrives on ploy and counterploy" and that as a skilled zoologist, Jan extrapolated the "strategies of deceit" found in the animal kingdom. Those strategies enable him to move in and out of the ghetto unnoticed. Similarly, like all mothers in the animal kingdom, Antonina possesses the innate instinct to protect her children as they mature. She uses that maternal protectiveness for her children as well as her guests at the zoo. Finally, the Nazis do not escape Ackerman's juxtaposition of animal and human nature. Like a vicious pack of wolves, they prey upon the people of Warsaw and raid the city, devouring whatever they want. 

The Nazi Obsession With Purity

Hitler and his Nazi party's obsession with developing a pure race actually helps the Żabińskis at times. Because Berlin's zookeeper, Lutz Heck, serves as a German officer during the war, Jan's previous connection to him as a zoologist allows Jan to manipulate Heck somewhat. One of Heck's responsibilities in Warsaw is to preserve rare animals which the Germans believe might possess historically "pure" ties. Thus, Heck does save some of the Żabińskis' animals by sending them to Berlin's zoo for "safekeeping" during the war. Unfortunately, some of those animals are killed in later bombings, and Heck confiscates the Warsaw Zoo's priceless and extensive breeding records to further the Reich's quest for creating pure animals.

Similarly, because Jan houses an insect collection at the zoo for a Jewish doctor confined to the ghetto, he is also able to peak the interest of Ziegler, an important authority figure in the ghetto. Like many of his peers, Ziegler is extremely interested in the origin of species and allows his obsession with breeding history and entomology to cloud his judgment when it comes to Jan. The zookeeper takes advantage of this weakness and smuggles many Jews out of the ghetto right under Ziegler's nose. Ackerman logically establishes that the Germans' desire to create pure races for humanity and the animal kingdom often blinded them to the Resistance Movement's subterfuge.

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