Study Guide

The Zookeeper's Wife: A War Story Warfare

By Diane Ackerman

Warfare

You don't usually think of wars when you think of zoos, unless the little-known chimpanzee vs. bonobo conflict at the Bronx Zoo in 1976 comes to mind. But in The Zookeeper's Wife, the Warsaw Zoo gets caught right at ground zero of World War II. Pretty much everyone and everything was caught in the middle of this war, which is why it's called a World War.

Stories about World War II are often told from the point of view of soldiers and their families, so Antonina, a zookeeper's wife who lives in Poland, gives us unique insight into a war that's been written about to death.

Now, if only one of those bonobos would write about the brutal conflict in the zoo that lasted for thirteen years…

Questions About Warfare

  1. How does The Zookeeper's Wife compare to other war stories you have read or seen? How is it different?
  2. Do Jan and Antonina change the course of the war? How would things have been different if they had not taken the actions they did take?
  3. Why do you think Jan and Antonina's story went untold for so long?

Chew on This

War is a uniquely human concept (unless you're observing chimpanzees), so it's ironic that two zookeepers—who live in a world of animals that don't know war—who work the hardest to provide safe refuge for people hurt by war.

Animals are adaptable when their environment changes. War changes the entire world, and the people need to learn to be as adaptable as the animals are.

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