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The Zookeeper’s Wife – Book Quotes

Stacey Tuttle on February 24, 2017 - 1:30 pm in Book Quotes

Click here to read Shepherd Project's discussion of the book, The Zookeeper's Wife.

JAN AND ANTONINA ZABINSKI WERE CHRISTIAN ZOOKEEPERS horrified by Nazi racism, who capitalized on the Nazis’ obsession with rare animals in order to save over three hundred doomed people. (p11)

In wartime Poland, when even handing a thirsty Jew a cup of water was punishable by death, their heroism stands out as all the more startling. (p11)

I studied how Nazism hoped, not only to dominate nations and ideologies, but to alter the world’s ecosystems by extinguishing some countries’ native species of plants and animals (including human beings), while going to great lengths to protect other endangered animals and habitats, and even to resurrect extinct species like the wild cow and forest bison. (p12)

Nazism’s roots in the occult. (p12)

Antonina felt convinced that…animals “long for human company, reach out for human attention,” with a yearning that’s somehow reciprocal. (p34)

The lampshade store and worship was like a magnet to so many people. Thanks to these two tiny lovely old ladies, who were extremely warmhearted, full of love and kindness, we survived this terrible time. There were like the warm light during the summer night, and people from upstairs, homeless people from other locations, from destroyed buildings, even from other streets, were gathering like moths attracted by the warmth around these two ladies. (p57)

This is how a hunted animals feels…not like a heroine, just madly driven to get home safely at any cost. (p60)

Breaking laws of failing to report lawbreakers, both acting or observing, were equally punishable offenses. (p69)

Human nature being what it is, most people didn’t wish to get involved, so few people were denounced, and fewer still denounced for not denouncing others. (p69)

Somewhere between doing and not doing, everyone’s conscience finds its own level; most Poles didn’t risk their lives for fugitives but didn’t denounce them either. (p69)

One of Frank’s key tasks was to kill all people of influence, such as teachers, priests, landowners, politicians, lawyers, and artists. Then he began rearranging huge masses of the population: over a span of five years, 860,000 Poles would be uprooted and resettled; 75,000 Germans would take over their lands; 1,300,000 Poles would be shipped to Germany as slave labor; and 330,000 would simply be shot. (p70)

Under the Third Reich, animals became noble, mythic, almost angelic—including humans, of course, but not Slavs, Gypsies, Catholics, or Jews. (p86)

Although Mengele’s subjects could be operated on without any painkillers at all, a remarkable example of Nazi zoophilia is that a leading biologist was once punished for not giving worms enough anesthesia during an experiment. (p86)

Biologist Lecomte dy Nouy argues in La dignite humain (1944): “German’s crime is the greatest crime the world has ever known because is not on the scale of History: it is on the scale of evolution.” (p92)

It was a kind of pornography, in which the brief frisson of killing outweighed the animals’ lives. (p96)

Nazi biologists believed in appearances, that anyone who strongly resembled a target species could be bred back to a pure ancestor. (p99)

How do you retain a spirit of affection and humor in a crazed, homicidal, unpredictable society? (p101)

Rationing was calculated down to the last calorie per day, with Germans receiving 2,613 calories, Poles 669 calories, and Jews only 184 calories. (p104)

Jan always shied away from praise and underplayed his bravery, saying such things as: “I don’t understand all the fuss. If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal.” (p113)

Unlike other occupied countries, where hiding Jews could land you in prison, in Poland harboring a Jew was punishable by immediate death to the rescuer and also to the rescuer’s family and neighbors, in a death-frenzy deemed “collective responsibility.” (p116)

War didn’t only sunder people… It could also intensify friendships and spark romances; every handshake opened a door or steered fate. (p129)

One often recognizes only in hindsight a coincidence or unlikely object that altered fate. Who would have imagined that a zealous professor’s cavalcade of pinned beetles would open the gate from the Ghetto for so many people? (p152)

Napoleon’s Grand Army dropped from 500,000 to 3,000 mainly through pestilence. Friedrich Prinzing’s Epidemics Resulting from Wars, published in 1916, tells the same tale, and also points out that more men died from lice-borne diseases in the American Civil War than on its battlefields. This led naturally to the image of virulent, lice-ridden Jews. “Antisemitism is exactly the same as delousing,” Himmler told his SS officers on April 24, 1943. “Getting rid of lice is not a question of ideology. It is a matter of cleanliness… We shall soon be deloused. We have only 20,000 lice left and then the matter is finished within the whole of Germany. (p154) *Note, the Jews acquired lice after they were rounded up and put in condensed quarters, where they were unable to attend properly to hygiene. This obvious fact seems to have escaped the reasoning of Hitler.

Most people know that 30 to 40 percent of the world’s Jews were killed during World War II, but not that 80 to 90 percent of the Orthodox community perished, among them many who had kept alive an ancient tradition of mysticism and meditation reaching back to the Old Testament world of the prophets. (p158)

All our senses feed the brain, and if it diets mainly on cruelty and suffering, how can it remain healthy? Change that diet, on purpose, train mentally to refocus the mind, and one nourishes the brain. (p159)

At the outbreak of the war, thinking to decapitate the country, the Nazis had rounded up and shot most of the Polish intelligentsia, then outlawed education and the press, a strategy that boomeranged because it not only made learning subversively appealing, it also feed the surviving intellectuals to focus their brain power on feats of resistance and sabotage. (p169)

[Janusz Korczak was a doctor who worked with orphaned children during the war. He had the children perform a play about a circus of stars] to help the trapped, terrified children accept death more serenely. Anticipating their calamity and fright when deportation day came (August 6, 1942), he joined them aboard the train bound for Treblinka, because, he said, he knew his presence would calm them—“You do not leave a sick child in the night, and you do not leave children at a time like this.” … “A miracle occurred, two hundred pure souls, condemned to death, did not weep. Not one of them ran away. None tried to hide. Like stricken swallows they clung to their teacher and mentor, to their father and brother, Janusz Korczak.” … The Poles claim Korczak as a martyr, and the Israelis revere him as one of the Thirty-Six Just Men, whose pure souls make possible the world’s salvation. According to Jewish legend, these few, through their good hearts and good deeds, keep the too-wicked world from being destroyed. For their sake alone, all of humanity is spared. The legend tells that they are ordinary people, not flawless or magical, and that most of them remain unrecognized throughout their lives, while they choose to perpetuate goodness even in the midst of inferno. (p185-186)

Drawing together a consortium of Polish Catholic and political groups, Zegota’s sole purpose was rescue, not sabotage or fighting, and, as such, it was the only organization of its kind in occupied Europe during the war, one that historians credit with saving 28,000 Jews in Warsaw. (p188)

70,000-90,000 people in Warsaw and the suburbs, or about one-twelfth of the city’s population, risked their lives to help neighbors escape. (p189)

Our Guests, who fled from the entrance of crematoriums and the thresholds of gas chambers,” [needed] more than refuge. “The desperately needed hope that a safe haven even existed, that the war’s horrors would one day end.” (p209)

Jan believed in tactics and subterfuge, and Antonina in living as joyously as possible, given the circumstance, while staying vigilant. So, on the one hand, Jan and Antonina each kept a cyanide pill with them at all times, but on the other, they encouraged humor, music, and conviviality. (p209)

Heinrich Himmler strove to be Hitler’s best and most faithful servant, would have lassoed and gift-wrapped the moon if he could. “For him, I would do anything,” he once told a friend. “Believe me, if Hitler were to say I should shoot my mother, I would do it and be proud of his confidence.” (p211)

[Antonina wondered] Why was it…that “animals can sometimes subdue their predator ways in only a few months, while humans, despite centuries of refinement, can quickly grow more savage than any beast”? (p239)

If I maintain my silence about my secret it is my prisoner…if I let it slip from my tongue, I am its prisoner. – Arthur Schopenhauer (p255)

In Antonina’s day, the evil eye, born of envy to sour and begrudge good fortune, worried many Poles, who believed a happy event invited evil and that praising a newborn cast a vicious spell. “What a beautiful baby” became so poisonous that, as antidote, the mother had to counter with: “Oh, it’s an ugly child,” and then spit in disgust. … The dehexing fell mainly to mothers, who saved offspring by forgoing shows of happiness and pride, thus sacrificing what they prized dearly for what they valued most, because the moment one loved something it became eligible for loss. (p268)

[Antonina wrote,] “If felt words like mother, wife, sister, have the power to change a bastard’s spirit and conquer his murderous instincts, maybe there’s some hope for the future of humanity after all.” (p284)

In all, around three hundred people passed through the way station of the Warsaw Zoo, en route to the rest of their nomadic lives. Jan always felt, and said publicly, that the real heroine of this saga was his wife, Antonina. “She was afraid of the possible consequences… she was terrified the Nazi’s would seek revenge against us and our young son, terrified of death, and yet she kept it to herself, and helped me [with my Underground activities] and never ever asked me to stop.” “Antonina was a housewife … she wasn’t involved in politics or war, and was timid, and yet despite that she played a major role in saving others and never once complained about the danger.” “Her confidence could disarm even the most hostile,” he told an anonymous reporter, adding that her strength stemmed from her love of animals. “It wasn’t just that she identified with them,” he explained, “but from time to time she seemed to shed her own human traits and become a panther or a hyena. Then, able to adopt their fighting instinct, she arose as a fearless defender of her kind.” (p314)

Intrigued by the personality of rescuers, Malka Drucker and Gay Block interviewed over a hundred, and found they shared certain key personality traits. Rescuers tended to be decisive, fast-thinking, risk-taking, independent, adventurous, openhearted, rebellious, and unusually flexible—able to switch plans, abandon habits, or change ingrained routines at a moment’s notice. They tended to be nonconformists, and though many rescuers held solemn principles worth dying for, they didn’t regard themselves as heroic. Typically, one would say, as Jan did: “I only did my duty—if you can save somebody’s life, it’s your duty to try.” Or: “We did it because it was the right thing to do.” (p315)

The beauty and genius of a work of art may be reconceived, though its first material expression be destroyed; a vanished harmony may yet again inspire the composer; but when the last of a race of living things breaths no more, another heaven and another earth must pass before such a one can be again. –C. William Beebe (p320)

There are many kinds of obsession, some diabolical, some fortuitous. Strolling through Bialowieza’s mass of life, one would never guess the role it played in Lutz Heck’s ambitions, the Warsaw Zoo’s fate, and the altruistic opportunism of Jan and Antonina, who capitalized on the Nazi’s obsession with prehistoric animals and a forest primeval to rescue scores of endangered neighbors and friends. (p321)

Much as Hitler publicly championed a fit, vigorous Aryan race, Goebbels had a clubfoot, Goring was obese and addicted to morphine, and Hitler himself seems to have been suffering from third-stage syphilis by the end of the war, addiction to uppers and downers, and quite possibly Parkinson’s. (p327)

The Wehrmacht commissioned an array of drugs that would increase focus, stamina, and risk-taking, while reducing pain, hunger, and fatigue. Between April and July of 1940, troops received over 35 million 3-milligram doses of the addictive and mood-altering amphetamines Pervitin and Isophan. (p327)

Out of its prewar population of 36 million, Poland lost 22 percent, more than any other country in Europe. After the war, Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the State Tribunal of Israel, detailed some of Christian Poland’s ordeal, and how, in addition to the 6 million Jews killed, 3 million Catholics died, “but what is even worse, it lost especially its educated classes, youth and any elements which could in the future oppose one of the other of the two totalitarian regimes… According to the German plan, Poles were to become a people without education, slaves for the German overlords.” (p332)

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