Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Courage

By Diane Ackerman

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.

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