Study Guide

Lutz Heck in The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

By Diane Ackerman

Lutz Heck

A Snowball's Chance in Heck

If Lutz Heck weren't a Nazi, he'd probably be a nice, loyal guy. But any person about whom you could actually begin a sentence with "if so-and-so weren't a Nazi" probably isn't someone you should be friends with in the first place.

Heck puts Jan, Antonina, and their zoo between a rock and a hard place, and both the rock and the hard place are painted with swastikas. When their zoo is about to be liquidated (that means the animals will all be killed), Heck offers to take the fur squad to his zoo in Germany. Considering it's the Germans who will be liquidating the zoo, this is like Paula Deen telling you to eat a stick of butter and then selling you diabetes medication years later. But we digress.

Antonina and Jan have no choice but to go along with Heck's offer. By giving him their animals, they're giving those animals a shot, at least a very small one, of not being eradicated. However, being a two-faced Nazi, Heck takes only the animals he wants, which he plans to use in the Nazi plot to resurrect ancient purebred animals. It sounds like something out of science fiction, but it's totally true.

After taking some animals, Heck, to impress German bigwigs, invites some officials on a hunting trip inside the zoo. Ackerman explains it best when she says that "paradoxical as it seems, he was a zookeeper who didn't mind killing animals in someone else's zoo if it meant ingratiating himself with powerful friends" (10.9).

In real life, Heck basically created an entire breed of cattle, still used today. Don't worry, you're not eating Nazi burgers at Burger King; the Heck cattle are used to graze and produce huge piles of fertilizer—though at least one farmer says they are too aggressive to continue using for any purpose (source).

Aggressive and unpredictable cows, eh? Like father, like son.

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