Study Guide

Dr. Szymon Tenenbaum in The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story

By Diane Ackerman

Dr. Szymon Tenenbaum

Royal Tenenbaum

Dr. Szymon Tenenbaum—pronounced "SHEE-mon"—is like Santa Claus: he's an important figure we never actually see, and yet he delivers gifts that keep on giving.

Kept in the Warsaw Ghetto, Tenenbaum is a bug collector. A German officer named Ziegler is obsessed with beetles. When Tenenbaum falls ill, Ziegler counts on Jan to act as a liaison between himself and Tenenbaum's beetles. This allows Jan to sneak many people out of the Ghetto.

It's possible that Ziegler knew what Jan was doing but turned a blind eye because of his love for beetles. As Ackerman writes, "When he saw the beautiful beetles and butterflies, he forgot all about the world" (15.39). Whether or not he knew about Jan's actions, Ziegler shows us that like beetles, even Nazis might have a soft side, somewhere beneath their hard carapace.

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