Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Quotes

  • Compassion and Forgiveness

    Chapter 1

    "It's not enough to do research from a distance. It's by living beside animals that you learn their behavior and psychology." (1.18)

    This is Jan's research philosophy. By replacing the word "animals" with "humans," you get Antonina's philosophy in observing the people who stay with them over the course of the war. If only she were roommates with Hitler, maybe she would have understood him, too. Or maybe not.

    Antonina loved to slip out of her human skin for a while and spy on the world through each animal's eyes, and she often wrote from that outlook, in which she intuited their concerns and know-how, including what they might be seeing, feeling, fearing, sensing, remembering. (1.21)

    Early on in the book, it feels like Antonina has extraordinary compassion for animals, as a zookeeper should. But later on, we start to wonder if Antonina actually feels she can communicate with animals telepathically. What do you think, is she compassionate or crazy? Maybe that kind of telepathic communication is real?

    Chapter 2

    Antonina felt convinced that people needed to connect more with their animal nature, but also that animals "long for human company, reach out for human attention," with a yearning that's somehow reciprocal. (2.14)

    During the war, Antonina finds a way to combine her love for animals with her keen observation of human psychology. By doing this, she is able to communicate effectively with almost anyone—and to help many people along the way.

    Chapter 4

    "At least humans can pack their essentials, keep moving, keep improvising. […] The zoo animals are in a much worse situation than we are," she lamented, "because they're totally dependent on us." (4.31)

    Antonina still feels for the animals, even during the violence of war. Nevertheless, she never puts their safety above the safety of humans.

    Chapter 13

    "I don't understand all the fuss. If any creature is in danger, you save it, human or animal." (13.7)

    Don't forget plants. Antonina is also upset when the Germans eradicate many plants in the zoo. We think she's basically anti-destruction, in general. Not a bad position to take, if you ask us.

    "I had a moral indebtedness to the Jews," Jan once told a reporter. (13.2)

    Jan explains that his compassion for the Jews is partly the result of going to a Jewish school. We'd have thought "being a decent person" would be explanation enough. Does this mean that if Jan didn't go to a mostly Jewish school, he wouldn't care for them at all? Probably not, but it does show that even otherwise good people at the time were biased against the Jews living with them. The Holocaust didn't happen in a vacuum.

    Chapter 15

    "What a horrible pity," his wife lamented. "I love roses so much!" (15.11)

    Speaking of plants, some people, like this official's wife, seem to care about plants more than about humans or animals. Dead elephants? Who cares. The Holocaust? So what? But don't you touch those roses.

    Chapter 27

    A toddler again after so many years, [Antonina] felt cosseted by Magdalena and the others, who allowed her to be a sick little girl, fussed over by family, but she also scolded herself and "felt so embarrassed and useless." (27.2)

    Like many caretakers, Antonina loves taking care of other people, but she herself hates being taken care of.

    Chapter 32

    Over the next few days, Mrs. Kokot provided bread and butter, and brought a small wooden bathtub for Teresa and hot water. (32.17)

    Without the presence of kindly old ladies—and not-so-old ladies like Antonina—the world would be a much more horrible place. That's one lesson we've totally learned from The Zookeeper's Wife.

    Chapter 36

    It's a chimera I think Antonina would have identified with: a defender half woman, half animal. On both sides of the pillar, a bearded god spills water from his mouth, and it's easy to picture Antonina setting down her basket, angling a jug under a spout, and waiting as life gurgled up from the earth. (36.17)

    The book ends with the author attempting to identify with Antonina. Do you agree with what she thinks, that Antonina would identify with this statue? Why or why not?

  • The Home

    Chapter 1

    Antonina and Jan had learned to live on seasonal time, not mere chronicity. Like most humans, they did abide by clocks, but their routine was never quite routine, made up as it was of compatible realities, one attuned to animals, the other to humans. (1.9)

    Living in a zoo means that Jan and Antonina have to adapt their home life and their routines to those of the animals. It's difficult but rewarding, and it puts them in touch with the rhythms of nature.

    Chapter 4

    When she finally arrived in Rejentòwka, she found a ghost town with summer guests gone, shops shuttered for the season, and even the post office closed. (4.18)

    Antonina often has to move away from the zoo and make new little homes away from home. It's hard to do that when all the comforts of home have been abandoned.

    For Jan, the puzzle of finding a town of no military interest posed an equation littered with unknowns he wasn't prepared for, since neither he nor Antonina had thought the Germans would invade Poland. (4.10)

    It's alarming for Jan and Antonina to see the country they consider their home being invaded by an outside force. They thought their home was safe, but this is only the beginning of the invasion.

    Chapter 5

    Antonina marveled as their wrinkled hands passed out food (mainly oatmeal), sweets, a postcard album, and little games. (5.10)

    The war makes people forge unlikely friendships, like this one between Antonina and her elderly landlords. It's a friendship borne out of a need to survive, and everyone provides companionship and whatever resources they can spare for one another. These old ladies feed Antonina. Hey, a fistful of oatmeal always hits the spot.

    Chapter 10

    We could see our two hawks and one eagle circling above the garden. When their cage was split open by bullets, they'd flown free, but they didn't want to leave the only home they knew. (10.15)

    These two eagles remind us of Antonina, Jan, and Ryś: they are often kicked out of their home and forced to circle around it, and all they want to do is return home. At least they always remain happy and never become…angry birds. (We had to do it.)

    Chapter 18

    Antonina worried about her friend, sculptor Magdalena Gross, whose life and art had derailed with the bombing of the zoo, which wasn't just her open-air workshop but her compass, in both senses, an imaginative realm for her work and a direction for her life. (18.19)

    Art needs a safe home if it's going to thrive, and the war does all it can to bust everybody and everything up. Where is Bob Ross and his happy trees when you need him?

    When Jews had been ordered into the Ghetto, Gross refused, by no means an easier fate, because those who lived on the surface had to disguise themselves as Aryans and keep up the masquerade at all times, cultivating Polish street language and a plausible accent. (18.26)

    Magdalena attempts to stay in her home and not give in to the Germans, but that kind of resistance only makes the Germans more forceful in removing Jews from their homes. No one has ever hung a sign that says "Ghetto Sweet Ghetto," and it would seem kind of impossible to make that kind of place into a good home.

    Chapter 28

    Of all the Guests to leave the villa, "high-spirited Magdalena, full of energy and laughter," was the one Antonina said she missed the most. (28.13)

    Speaking of cross-stitched signs, Antonina would have to take down her "Zoo Sweet Zoo" sign if she had one, and then she'd need to chuck her "Home Sweet Home" sign in the trash, too. Just as a zoo isn't a zoo without animals, the villa isn't a home without Antonina's friends inside it.

    Chapter 29

    Because pheasants were delicacies, a Pheasant House sounded quite grand to the boys, and one teased: "We'll pretend we're a rare species, right, Mr. Lieutenant?" (29.7)

    Many refugees in the zoo make a temporary home in one of the animal enclosures. Exotic animals make it seem like these people staying in an exotic hotel, and that does make things more interesting. Where would you rather stay, Chateau Peacock or Skunk Motel?

    Chapter 32

    "Mom, I know we're never going home again," he said tearfully. (32.13)

    This is a sad moment for Ryś, and we're glad to say that he's wrong. The book has a happy ending, as the zookeeper, his wife, and their son all get to return to their home, romping among the animals forever like in a live-action Disney movie.

  • Family

    Chapter 1

    In the kitchen each morning, [Antonina] poured herself a cup of black tea and started sterilizing glass baby bottles and rubber nipples for the household's youngest. (1.23)

    The Żabiński family isn't only made up of husband, wife, and son. To them, their animals are like family, too. You might think it would be weird growing up with a monkey as a brother, but hey, Ryś seems to turn out okay, so we're not gonna question it.

    In 1931, they married and moved across the river to Praga, a tough industrial district with its own street slang, on the wrong side of the tracks, but only fifteen minutes by trolley from downtown. (1.5)

    Like any young couple, Jan and Antonina move to a place where they think it will be nice to start a family. Unlike most young couples, they move into a zoo.

    Chapter 5

    Like other animal mothers, she grew desperate to find a safe hiding place for her young, "but unlike them," she wrote in her diary, "I can't carry Ryś in my jaws to a safe nest." (5.2)

    Here we have a mother fearing that she can't help her family. It's kind of a tragic situation, but the image of her carrying her own son in her mouth is kind of too funny not to laugh at.

    Chapter 10

    If she couldn't protect the animals in her keeping, how could she protect her own son? (10.14)

    As the title suggests, Antonina is defined by her relationship to her husband. She also places all her worth in her ability to take care of her son. An alternate title of this book might be The Zookeeper's Son's Mother.

    Chapter 16

    Lonia had watched Szymon die; her daughter had been discovered by the Gestapo in Krakòw and shot; only the dachshund survived as a family. (16.13)

    Antonina is happy to have animals as part of the family because she still has a human family. Szymon Tenenbaum's wife, Lonia, doesn't have the luxury, so it's really sad that a dog is her family—and her only family.

    Chapter 18

    According to Jan, "The personality of animals will develop according to how you raise, train, educate them—you can't generalize about them. Just like people who own dogs and cats will tell you, no two are exactly alike. Who knew that a rabbit could learn to kiss a human, open doors, or give us reminders about dinnertime?" (18.8)

    By treating animals as part of the family, the Żabińskis end up with nice, sweet animals. Does this mean animals without families are mean? Somewhere, is there a bunny with no family who tries to organize a mass extinction of all other bunnies?

    Chapter 22

    Years of war and curfews didn't alter that; he still anxiously awaited his father's return. Respecting this, Jan would go straight to Ryś's room, remove his backpack, and sit for a few minutes to talk about the day, often producing a little treasure tucked in a pocket. (22.2)

    Jan tries to maintain a healthy relationship with his son, even in the middle of a war. This guy deserves all the Father's Day cards.

    Chapter 23

    Sharing a room, the hamster and Maurycy seemed to find amusement in each other, and Antonina noted how quickly the two became companions. (23.29)

    It isn't only the Żabińskis who treat animals as family. Maurycy bunks with a hamster, which quickly becomes like a brother to him. Maybe these human-animal relationship are all the stronger because of how scary and uncertain everything is during wartime; it makes you look at things differently and appreciate what you have, even if that is just a hamster.

    Chapter 26

    "And, in this small way, our own private family Underground ceased to exist." (26.25)

    Sadly, the war changes the Żabiński family dynamic. Antonina and Jan grow distant, and so do Ryś and his father after Ryś pulls a prank and Jan punishes him. However, odds are Ryś would have needed to be punished as he got older, anyway, war or not. So Antonina is maybe being a little dramatic here.

    Chapter 31

    "If felt words like mother, wife, sister, have the power to change a bastard's spirit and conquer his murderer's instincts, maybe there's some hope for the future of humanity after all." (31.62)

    Antonina learns that the way to a Nazi's heart is by exploiting his sentimental feelings about his own family. Baking him swastika-shaped cookies is a close second. Antonina doesn't need to resort to hateful baking, though, because by reminding soldiers of their female relatives at home, she convinces them not to hurt her and her family.

  • Warfare

    Chapter 2

    "Adolf has to be stopped," one of the keeps insisted. Jan knew he didn't mean Hitler, but "Adolf the Kidnapped," a nickname given to the ringleader of the rhesus monkeys, who had been waging war with the oldest female, Marta, whose son Adolf had stolen and given to his favorite mate, Nelly, who already had one baby of her own. (2.1)

    This line gives a bit of foreshadowing about the upcoming war. Although we know what happened to Adolf Hitler, we never do find out what happened to the Adolf the monkey. His story was lost in the drama of the war.

    Chapter 3

    The older boys believed, as Antonina did, that war belonged to the world of adults, not children. (3.17)

    This isn't really a loss-of-innocence story, but everyone's innocence is lost a bit during this long, difficult, violent war. Even the zoo animals don't escape unscathed.

    War wasn't something Antonina wanted to think about, especially since her last experience of war stole both her parents, so she assured herself, as most Poles did, of their solid alliance with France, keeper of a powerful army, and Britain's sworn protection. (3.6)

    Even without a personal loss associated with war, most people wouldn't be looking forward to a world war. But Antonina's personal loss makes her feel so desperate that she ends up feeling dependent on France for protection.

    Chapter 4

    Ever bomb creates a different scent, depending on where it hits, what it boils into aerosol and the nose detects slipping apart, as molecules mix with air and float free. (4.8)

    The scent of bombs is an interesting detail that few others have noted. Ackerman later describes a bomb hitting a bakery, which sounds like the most delicious explosion ever. But that's another story.

    In this Luftwaffe attack, a half-ton bomb destroyed the polar bears' mountain, smashing the walls, moats, and barriers and freeing the terrified animals. (4.29)

    If you're the type of person who gets more upset when animals are hurt than when people are injured, this is a very sad part of the book. Okay, actually, it's an unpleasant part of the book, either way.

    Chapter 5

    On the rare occasions she ventured out, she entered a film-like war, with yellow smoke, pyramids of rubble, jagged stone cliffs where buildings once stood, wind-chased letters and medicine vials, wounded people, and dead horses with oddly angled legs. (5.12)

    It feels surreal when Antonina goes outside. The war changes things so much that she feels like she's living in a war movie and not in the real world. And it's not even a fun war movie like Hot Shots! Part Deux.

    Chapter 11

    Antonina wondered if humans might use the same metaphor and picture the war days as "a sort of hibernation of the spirit, when ideas, knowledge, science, enthusiasm for work, understanding, and love—all accumulate inside, [where] nobody can take them from us." (11.1)

    Although many people might wish they could have napped through the war, we're not sure if they'd share this idea that war is somehow healing in the long run. War does have a habit of squashing out art and science, after all.

    Chapter 19

    By associating any tune with danger, one never again hears it without adrenaline pounding as memory hits consciousness followed by a jolt of fear. She was right to wonder. As she said, "It's a terrific way to ruin great music." (19.17)

    The songs played on the piano during the war become PTSD triggers for the residents of the villa after the war. It's like this: if a bomb went off every time you heard "Who Let the Dogs Out," then you'd feel pretty much exactly like you do whenever you hear "Who Let the Dogs Out" on a peaceful day. (Yes. We jest.)

    Chapter 26

    For people attuned to nature and the changing seasons, especially for farmers or animal-keepers, the war snagged time on barbed wire, forced them to live by mere chronicity, instead of real time, the time of wheat, wolf, and otter. (26.2)

    War changes everyone's lives; it even changes the lives of the animals in this book. Who will think about the otters during the war? Who?

    Chapter 31

    Later, when she calmed down, she tried to diagnose the behavior of the SS soldiers—did they ever consider shooting them, or was it always a sick game of power and fear? […] "If so," she thought, "maybe their monstrous hearts contain some human feeling; and if that's so, then pure evil doesn't really exist." (31.44)

    Antonina is always on the lookout for any little bits of goodness she can find during the war. It's sort of like picking out the M&Ms in a giant bowl of trail mix; happiness, like those M&Ms, can sometimes be hard to find.

  • Fear

    Chapter 3

    Jan knew Poland hadn't the planes, weapons, or war equipment to compete with Germany, and so they started talking seriously about sending Ryś somewhere safer, to a town of no military interest, if such a place existed. (3.24)

    Jan and Antonina aren't afraid for their own safety; they are much more worried about the safety of their child and the animals in their care. Who will think of the children? And the peacocks?

    Chapter 4

    Just before dawn, Antonina woke to the distant sound of gravel pouring down a metal chute, which her brain soon deciphered as airplane engines. (4.1)

    This is a scary way to wake up. Hey, if you have trouble getting out of bed in the morning, set your cell phone alarm to "Blitz." That should do the trick.

    The zoo animals seemed unaware of danger. Small fires didn't scare them—for years they'd trusted the sight of household bonfires—but they grew alarmed by the sudden flood of soldiers, because the only humans they'd ever seen in the early morning were the dozen or so blue-uniformed keepers, usually with food. (4.5)

    Even though the first sentence says that the animals seemed unaware of danger, it's pretty apparent that they have very acute senses attuned to he perception of danger. In fact, animals are often much better at sensing threats than people are.

    Chapter 12

    A second fright gripped Antonina as she noticed the time. "But that is the trolley Ryś sometimes takes home from school!" (12.17)

    Once again, we see fear for the safety of their child being a driving force for Jan and Antonina. After this scare, they temporarily change location to protect their young son. To them, this was the scariest trolley-related tragedy since Antonina heated up a bad box of Rice-a-Roni for dinner.

    Chapter 16

    According to Antonina, Lonia described the scene later in words filled with "terror and racing thoughts." (16.12)

    With Jan's as our go-to point of view, it's easy to lose track of how scary escaping the Ghetto under the watchful eyes of Nazi soldiers can be. Jan is fearless. Those he is helping to escape, not so much—and for good reason.

    Chapter 19

    Rumor has long ears, and as an old Gypsy saying goes, Fear has big eyes. (19.5)

    What do you think this saying means? Is it that when people are afraid, they are always wide-eyed and on the lookout? Perhaps they see things that aren't necessarily scary but are nevertheless perceived to be a threat? Or maybe Fear just wears really big glasses.

    Chapter 23

    It was one thing to expose himself to danger, he told Antonina, but the thought of spreading an epidemic offear throughout the zoo, the hub of so many lives, piled on more guilt than he could muster. (23.11)

    Many of the Guests at the villa also have other people's interests foremost in mind. Maurycy has been through so much that he barely cares what happens to himself. But he sure doesn't want to make other people scared. He wants to make sure the other Guests—and the hamsters—have a save environment to live in.

    Chapter 27

    "We know how cautious wild animals can be, how easily they scare when their instinct tells them to defend themselves. When they sense a stranger crossing their territory, they get aggressive for their own protection. But, in [Antonina's] case, it's like that instinct is absent, leaving her unafraid of either two- or four-legged animals. Nor does she convey fear." (27.35)

    This is Jan's perception of his wife, and it matches what we've seen so far. Aside from a fear for her son's safety, Antonina appears iron-willed, like a rhinoceros wearing chain mail.

    Chapter 28

    Even if to others Antonina often appeared calm, her writings reveal a woman often assailed by worry and broadsided by fear. (28.4)

    As a follow up to the previous quote, we learn that Antonina is mostly hiding her fear. She doesn't show it, but she reveals it in her private journals. She isn't a rhino wearing armor; she's a fuzzy little teddy bear hiding beneath a cool shell.

    Chapter 31

    "Surely this is the end," [Antonina] thought. Hugging her baby tight, mind darting to think up a plan, she felt her heart caged in her ribs, and her legs became too heavy to move. (31.35)

    Confronting a solider, Antonina outwardly expresses fear. It's a rare moment for her. What sets her apart from the animals in her zoo, and from many other people, is that Antonina doesn't run from her fear. She confronts it. And by doing so, she succeeds in conquering it.

  • Loyalty

    Chapter 5

    When Britain and France declared war on Germany, Poles rejoiced and radio stations played the French and British national anthems endlessly for days, but mid-September brought no relief from the relentless bombing and heavy artillery. (5.11)

    After this, the Polish response was basically Dzięki za nic. Which basically translates to Thanks for nothing, France. But maybe that's not fair. One thing we can tell you: two places you definitely didn't want to be in the 1940s were Poland and France.

    Chapter 6

    The best plan, he suggested, was to arrest Jan and drive to Warsaw with him as a prisoner; and despite their past cordiality, Jan worried if Müller could be trusted. (6.17)

    This is a huge risk on Jan's part, because Müller could be telling all this to him in order to arrest him. Although if Müller were actually doing that, he would be like a bad guy in a movie, concocting an elaborate plot to kill the hero when shooting him in the face would be the fastest solution. This book is more, you know, real life.

    Puzzled, they wondered whom to believe: the mayor in a public speech or members of the Resistance. (6.14)

    During wartime, loyalties can switch at a moment's notice. Pledging allegiance to anyone can be a risk, and one that's much more dangerous than the board game… even against your sore loser friend.

    Chapter 7

    They didn't trust Heck, but on the other hand, he was sweet on Antonina, and in theory, as a fellow zookeeper, he should be sympathetic to their situation. (7.15)

    Sometimes, during a war, you have no choice but to pretend to trust someone. Heck ends up being not that trustworthy, even though he returns a bunch of bison at the end of the story. The shipping charges must have been astronomical.

    Chapter 9

    The war had a way of curdling [Antonina's] trust in people. (9.17)

    There you have it: trust becomes like old cottage cheese during the war. No one wants a bite of that.

    "I'm giving you my pledge," [Lutz Heck] said solemnly. "You can trust me. Although I don't really have any influence over German high command, I'll try nonetheless to persuade them to be lenient with your zoo. Meanwhile, I'll take your most important animals to Germany, but I swear I'll take good care of them." (9.10)

    Liar, liar, lederhosen on fire. Okay, to be fair, Heck's definition of "most important animals" is different from Jan and Antonina's. He takes the animals he deems important, and he kills the rest. In his mind, he kept his word.

    Chapter 15

    Antonina knew Jan wanted to ride with Ziegler because most Ghetto gates were heavily guarded by German sentry on the outside and Jewish police on the inside. (15.45)

    As he did with Müller, Jan forms an uneasy alliance with Ziegler, another German. Müller saved Jan's life, and Jan's partnership with Ziegler helps save others. It turns out even some of the Germans were creeped out by what was happening on the ground.

    Chapter 27

    In time, her loyal, angry Guests stopped talking to Jan entirely or even making eye contact with him—hating how he treated her but unwilling to confront him, they blotted him out. (27.7)

    Loyalty isn't always about world-changing things, like picking sides in a war. Sometimes it's about petty marital squabbles too, and the Guests side with Antonina during her spat with Jan.

    Chapter 28

    As safety ebbed and flowed during the war, even a quiet offhand remark could trigger a landslide of trouble. Word filtered back to Antonina and Jan that one of their Polish zoo guards had caught sight of Magdalena and gossiped that the famous sculptor hid in the villa. (28.1)

    Loyalty can be betrayed by accident, too. Ever hear the American slogan "loose lips sink ships"? Well, in this case, it's something like "loose ground crews sink zoos."

    Chapter 29

    Jan whispered that these members of the Underground's sabotage wing had set fire to German gas tanks and urgently needed to lie low. They'd been told to run for the zoo, and, unbeknownst to Antonina, Jan had been expecting them all evening with mounting worry. (29.6)

    Hey, the enemy of your enemy is your friend. Jan has a home for anyone willing to bomb Germans.

  • Courage

    Chapter 5

    First routine comforts like water and gas disappeared, then radio and newspapers. Whoever dared the streets only did so at a run, and people risked their lives to stand in line for a little horsemeat or bread. (5.11)

    It takes a lot of bravery to leave a safe house in the middle of a war, but being hungry can cause people to find courage they never knew they had. Don't come between us and the breadstick basket at Olive Garden, for example.

    Chapter 6

    Jan had a penchant for risk, which he later told a reporter he found exciting, adding in his understated way that its pulse-revving gamble felt rather "like playing chess—either I win or I lose." (6.34)

    We're not sure why he chose chess for this particular analogy, because in almost any game you either win or lose. But, hey, Risk wasn't invented until 1957, so he couldn't pick that one.

    Chapter 12

    No doubt [Jan] enjoyed the irony of carrying food from the pig farm into the Ghetto, and if it felt a little off-color giving Jews pork, a taboo food, dietary laws had long since been waived, and everyone was grateful for protein, a scarce gift on either side of the wall. (12.2)

    It takes courage for Jan to penetrate the walls of the Ghetto, but it also takes a strength of spirit to do what it takes to survive. The Jewish people of Ghetto are brave, too, for being able to adapt to their terrible situation.

    Chapter 13

    Amazingly, Antonina never twigged one of Jan's secrets: that with his help the Home Army kept an ammunition dump at the zoo, buried near the moat in the elephant enclosure. (13.5)

    This is brave because it would take a lot of work to clean up after an exploding elephant. No, really.

    In the Polish Underground, where acrobatic feats of daring unfolded daily, Jan bore the code name "Francis," after Frances of Assisi, patron saint of animals, and was known for his audacity, sangfroid, and risk-taking. (13.7)

    Sangfroid literally means "cool blood." Not cold-blooded like a lizard, but able to keep cool under pressure—which Jan is definitely able to do. Still, maybe someone should check him for scales?

    Chapter 14

    Jan preferred the role of general, spy, and tactician, especially if it meant bamboozling or humiliating the enemy. (14.4)

    Jan may keep cool under pressure, but the thought of pulling the wool over the Germans' eyes sure does get his blood pumping. However, he's able to keep his excitement in check, which makes him a skillful and hence valuable spy.

    Chapter 15

    Emboldened by that success, Jan helped five others escape before the guard grew suspicious. (15.62)

    Jan knows when to push it and when to stop—yet another valuable skill in wartime. If they ever bring back the classic game show Press Your Luck and bring Jan back to life, he would totally win it.

    Chapter 21

    Autumn of 1942 also heralded a new Underground group the Żabińskis found immensely helpful: Żegota, cryptonym for the Council to Aid the Jews, a cell […] with the mission of helping Jews hidden in Polish homes. (21.2)

    The Żabińskis are key figures in history because of their brave alignment with various underground groups. Sometimes it's necessary to go underground, even though it can get scary down there. But, hey, Zookeepers have experience with moles, so it's like they have a head start, right?

    Chapter 29

    "For several hours we hid in the bushes next to the house because we could hear German language being spoken," one said. (29.7)

    Underground members often find themselves in hairy situations. The person talking here is one of a pair of nameless young men, probably teenagers, who risk their lives to sabotage the Nazis. You don't have to be old to be courageous. Courage has no age requirement.

    Chapter 31

    As she hugged the baby tighter, words streamed from her mouth, and, in another chamber of the mind, she concentrated hard and repeated over and over the command: Calm down! Put the guns down! Calm down! Put the guns down! Calm down! Put the guns down! (31.35)

    Courage has no gender, either. Antonina demonstrates great courage when she marches right up to a soldier with a gun in her face. We almost expect her to bend the gun like in a Bugs Bunny cartoon or stick her finger in it and make it explode.

  • Freedom and Confinement

    Chapter 9

    One awoke in darkness and silence, the bedroom windows sealed with plywood and most of the animal calls either missing or muffled. (9.1)

    If we lived in a zoo, we'd wake up like this every day, because we'd want our beauty sleep. But for Antonina, this is very different. The war changes every aspect of her life, making her feel like a prisoner in her own home.

    Chapter 11

    The idea of safety had shrunk to particles—one snug moment, then the next. (11.12)

    Freedom and safety, like McDonald's food and swimsuit season, are mutually exclusive during a war. If you want freedom, you have to risk your safety, and if you want safety, you must sacrifice your freedom.

    Chapter 12

    At first, while the Ghetto remained porous, the Żabińskis' Jewish friends believed it a temporary lepers' colony, or that Hitler's regime would quickly collapse and justice prevail, or that they could weather out the maelstrom, or that the "final solution" meant ejecting Jews from Germany and Poland—anything but annihilation. (12.10)

    Many terrible events occur during World War II, each one worse than the last. Many people believe that the Jews' confinement to the Ghetto is the worst of it, because what could be worse than losing your home? But few have any idea what else lies in store.

    Chapter 14

    Some villa Guests hid while others hovered, emerging only after dark to roam the house at liberty. (14.15)

    Even inside the villa, Guests aren't necessarily safe. It's a pit stop on their long road to freedom; they still must hide, because any gossip could expose them. There really isn't any safety in this war.

    Hiding them posed problems, but who better than zookeepers to devise fitting camouflage? (14.1)

    Some people might say that zookeepers are great at taking away the freedoms of animals and locking them in cages. Those people would be glad to see the zookeepers using their talents to save human lives for a change.

    Chapter 17

    Aided by friends on the Aryan side, tens of thousands of Jews managed to escape from the Ghetto before the war ended, but some famously stayed. (17.9)

    A recurring motif in war stories, like this one, is how some people give up their own freedom to help others escape to freedom. Jan and Antonina are two of these people.

    Chapter 18

    Whenever Gross left home, there was always the chance of being recognized and denounced, but in an atmosphere of daily street executions and house searches, Antonina worried when she heard a rumor that Nazis had been combing through the apartment houses in Magdalena's neighborhood, at odd hours, raiding attics and basements to roust out hidden Jews. (18.30)

    What we said earlier about freedom and safety being mutually exclusive applies here as well. Magdalena holds on to her freedom as long as she possibly can, but when it becomes too dangerous to live free, she goes into hiding. She would never fit in in the state of New Hampshire, whose motto is "Live Free or Die," not "Not Live Free or Hide."

    Chapter 19

    All the Guests and friends in hiding had secret animal names, and Magdalena's was "Starling," in part because of Antonina's fondness for the bird, but also because she pictured her "flying from nest to nest" to avoid capture, as one melina after another became burnt. (19.4)

    "Free as a Bird," which is a Beatles song, doesn't quite ring true here. Antonina is as free as a bird that is fluttering from one cage to another. She's more like the Smashing Pumpkins song about a "rat in a cage." Again, there's relative freedom in this novel, but true freedom doesn't come until after the war is over.

    Chapter 22

    "Animals behave differently in the wild. We make captive ones lives on a schedule that's unnatural to them because it's easier for us to take care of them, and that disturbs their normal sleep rhythms." (22.17)

    Being in captivity affects the humans just as much as it does animals. People and animals must both adapt themselves to a lifestyle very different from the one they're used to. Here, though, Jan is talking about a hamster. How in the world does a wild hamster behave? Do wild hamsters compete in their own version of the Olympics when no one is watching?

    Chapter 26

    Confined to her bed's well-padded prison, Antonina rose occasionally to hobble the few painful steps onto her balcony. […] Being bedridden had slowed the world down, given her time to page through memories, and brought a new perspective to some things. (26.3)

    In some cases, confinement can be nice. It might give you time to reflect, for example. In this case, Antonina is reflecting about how crappy her life is during the war—but maybe her new perspective will make it less crappy.

  • Other

    Chapter 15

    Emboldened by that success, Jan helped five others escape before the guard grew suspicious. (15.62)

    Jan knows when to push it and when to stop—yet another valuable skill in wartime. If they ever bring back the classic game show Press Your Luck and bring Jan back to life, he would totally win it.