Warsaw Zoo as a Refuge and Resistance Hub During WWII

When people talk about the history of “World War II” and the strategy, and gradually forget the microscopic impact of the war, Diane Ackerman (Diane Ackerman) tells us with her delicate and emotional brushwork and the idyllic natural background. It tells a story that is warm and romantic but still true and heavy. In occupied Poland, in Warsaw where the Jewish “Ghetto” (Ghetto, Jewish concentration area) was set up, in a small western-style building in the zoo, a couple who were horrified by the fascist atrocities took advantage of the Nazi ruler’s obsession with “pure blood” “The psychology of animals saved more than 300 desperate Jews during the arduous occupation period, and participated in this world war in their own way. The “Washington Post” book review praised: “This is a completely true story, recreating a real historical past, describing the compassion and cruelty in resilience, the alternation of pain and joy, and the symphony of wisdom and interest.”

Warsaw Zoo is a special place that reflects a different Polish culture. Antonina’s husband, the director of Ya’an, intends to build an innovative zoo with world significance here: the first zoo in Europe with African wild dogs and the first zoo with Grevy’s zebras. The twelfth elephant born in captivity in the world was born here, earning it the nickname “Tuchinka”, which means “a dozen” in Polish. Antonina delivered the baby herself. She firmly believes that humans need to have a deeper resonance with the natural animal nature, and animals also long for human company and love. Whenever she “goes out of her body” and imagines herself entering the “animal realm” of selflessness, the human world–the world that likes to show off its strength and conflicts constantly, as if it has lost the control of its parents–is blocked by her . The zoo also provides Antonina with a “pulpit” for ecological protection. Like a priest running around, she builds a bridge to nature for tourists. Gradually, the zoo became more spectacular, and Antonina and Ya’an were also honored to host the “International Association of Zoo Directors Annual Conference” in Warsaw. Everything seems to be thriving, but people have become worried – this year is 1939.

War is coming. The “blitzkrieg” of military strategists has become a whole new kind of disaster for nature. The unexpected bombardment, the indiscriminate large-scale bombing, and the rushing tanks have brought unprecedented suffering to countless creatures on the earth. Ammunition was pouring down, the ground was flying dust, the carcasses of storks, black-browed songbirds, and bald-nosed crows were all along the way, the lawn was torn apart under the ruts, and the broken branches of willows and lindens were crumbling. Antonina, who had narrowly escaped from death, not only saw the horrors of people dying and dead bodies everywhere, but also stopped for a long time in the flowerbed crushed by horseshoes and crawlers: the calyx hanging down in the mud, like colored teardrops .

The zoo, which was supposed to be a paradise, was finally affected by the flames of war: under the bombardment of artillery fire, the frightened mother animal walked around in the cage with the back of the cub in its mouth, wishing to find a hole to hide the child; the elephant frantic Hyenas whimpered and giggled uncontrollably as if they were frightened, mixed with hiccup-like guttural sounds; African wild dogs howled; macaques were so anxious that they lost their minds and fought wildly with each other, screaming hysterically. Broke the air. In order to prevent the beasts from escaping, the Polish soldiers stationed decided to shoot all the aggressive animals. Polar bears, lions, tigers, and the bull elephant Yas, the father of the baby elephant Tuchenka, died in this human conflict that they did not understand.

What’s even more absurd is that the Nazis’ pursuit of “pure blood” and rejection of so-called “hybrids” did not stop at the human level. After Hitler came to power, the biological goals of the Nazi movement gave rise to many projects to ensure racial purity, to justify the Nazi extermination of defective populations, political cleansing, and genocide. One of the important scientists of the Third Reich, Eugene Fischer, a colleague and close friend of Lutz Heck, director of the Berlin Zoo, founded the “Institute of Anthropology, Genetics and Eugenics”, convinced that hybridization It is the “castration” of the superior race. Only by eliminating the inferior race and returning to the original “pure blood” state can we regain wisdom, strength and prosperity. Under the auspices of the Third Reich, pure-blooded animals became fetishes—including, of course, the Aryans. Non-“pure-blooded” Slavs, Gypsies, Jews, etc., in the eyes of the Nazis who conducted inhuman experiments, did not deserve a painkiller; He was held accountable by the Nazi managers for “destroying humanity” for not adequately anesthetizing the earthworms and rats.

The Heck brothers did what they wanted and worked to restore three extinct pure-blooded creatures—the Neolithic mustang, aurochs and bison. They believe that only prehistoric animals will not “taint” bloodlines through cross-species hybridization, and by repeatedly mating existing species that are closest to extinct animals, species that are closest to purebred ancestors can be bred. Given the gift of war, they were able to plunder the natural world and zoos of Eastern Europe and conduct breeding experiments with Polish breeds that were closer in line to their ancestors. The scene of pure Aryans riding pure-blooded European wild horses, driving European aurochs, and hunting large-scale European bison is undoubtedly a “pure blood” miracle that can make any high-ranking Nazi official dream about it. As a result, the Nazis gave Heck unlimited support. And this also gave Antonina and Ya’an an unexpected opportunity.

Although the war has left the zoo in name only, Antonina and Ya’an must stay. For Antonina, who runs the family and helps friends, this is the home of surviving animals and a transfer station for those who escaped. For Yaan, who secretly joined the resistance movement, this is the ammunition depot of the largest underground resistance organization in Warsaw. Safehouse for cover fighters. They had to agree to Lutz Heck’s request to hand over the precious “pure blood” animal descendants in the park to Germany in exchange for the possibility of turning the zoo into a “pig farm”. After all, the slop collected by raising pigs could “obtain food stamps, bacon and butter, and deliver news to friends in the Jewish ghetto” (p. 90).

Beginning in the summer of 1940, underground resistance organizations successively sent secret “guests” into the zoo. A phone call, a note, and a whisper can make the director and his wife understand. Most of the “guests” are fugitive Jews who are hiding in Tibet. They bring animal code names such as “starling”, “sable”, “lion”, “pheasant” and “peacock” to stop here for a short time, and continue on the road after resting and “refueling”. Those Jews who can speak German and have Aryan facial features can leave smoothly after receiving forged documents; those who can’t get away with it are hidden in the zoo for several years: some live in the small western-style building of the director and his wife, and some hide in the zoo vacant In the shed, at most fifty people hid in the empty animal cage at the same time. Compared with the crowded and chilling Warsaw “ghetto”, this weird hiding place in the zoo is warm and bright, and it is so out of tune with the war years that the resistance organization gave this “stronghold” a weird code name “House of Crazy Stars.” . And the couple are well-deserved of this title: with the help of the 500,000 insect specimens collected by the Jewish Dr. Tenenbaum in the zoo, they successfully hooked up with Ziegler, the director of the Warsaw “ghetto” labor bureau and an insect lover. From then on, under the eyes of the Nazis, the Jews were swaggered out of the “ghetto”. Antonina has also become the “queen” of the zoo. She not only has to manage the ups and downs of the zoo ruins, take care of the physically and mentally devastated escapees, but also carefully conceal their existence, and even vigilantly reminds uninvited guests of their dangers with piano music. Unexpected visit. The inexplicable figures and whispers, the occasional food consumption, and the occasional piano sound seem to confirm the title of “House of Crazy Stars”.

“The House of Crazy Stars” is like the wonderland where Alice roams, not only saving lives, but also healing people’s hearts. Although the zoo exists in name only, under the care of Antonina, there are many animals in the small building, first is an arctic hare named Vichek, then a little rooster named Kuba, muskrats, dogs, eagles, and young foxes. Join one after another. After the Nazis were unwilling to continue funding the pig farms, the zoo became a fur farm that provided warm clothing to the Eastern Front. The Polish “Mr. Fox” who was in charge of the operation brought his own parrots and cats——Barbina joined The secret life of Xiaoyanglou. This indoor zoo has become a circus that makes people forget their worries. The animals here have human names, and the people bear the names of animals. The room is filled with the smells and sounds of various creatures. “This place is totally crazy!” People and animals get along, play together, and bring laughter to the house.

Life cannot be controlled, life will break free, and life will find its own way. Whether it is Darwin’s “Origin of Species”, Jack London’s “Call of the Wild”, Hayao Miyazaki’s “Nausica of the Valley of the Wind”, Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park”, human beings are constantly reflecting on life and nature. This voice is issued in the eulogy of the greatness of life and the generosity of nature. The same is true in the small building of the Warsaw Zoo. The arrival of the hamster saved a life: the Jewish intellectual named Morrissey, after experiencing the inhuman torture of the “ghetto”, completely lost his consciousness of being a human being. The false identity, the days in hiding, and the hopeless future turned him into a numb wandering soul. It wasn’t until he was awakened by this little hamster that was begging for food that he “felt satisfied and happy from time to time”, and he was collectively called “the pair of hamsters” by the small building.

For others, the arrival of the hamster brought hope of life on another level: on February 2, 1943, the German Sixth Army surrendered, the Battle of Stalingrad ended victoriously, and the cruel and vicious Nazi regime continued to live. Will be long! The underground resistance organization in Warsaw launched 514 various attacks, and even armed resistance broke out in the “ghetto”. Doctors tried to help Jews escape capture by changing their bodies and performing plastic surgery; civil servants continued to secretly print brand-new files and certificates to create false identities for escape. Even the Nazi Labor Office admitted that in 1943 an estimated 15 percent of all identity cards and 25 percent of work permits were forged, with everything from birth and death certificates to SS and Gestapo papers.

In the small western-style building, life is also exploring different ways out. Antonina and Yaan both carry cyanide with full awareness of what they are doing, but the struggle is not on the same front. If Antonina, who has been managing the housework and taking care of every living creature in the small building, upholds the principle that life must be happy and fulfilling, then Ya’an, who leaves early and returns late, and secretly devotes herself to the cause of resistance, insists that life is inseparable from strategies and tricks. In addition to making bombs, overturning trains, and poisoning pork sandwiches in German canteens, Ya’an has been helping underground organizations build bunkers and safe houses. The two endured the test of narrow escapes in different places, and kept their secrets. After the Normandy landing and the “July 20th Incident” in which Hitler was assassinated, it was a matter of time before the Nazis were defeated. The garrison and the Gestapo fled in panic under the pressure of the Soviet Red Army. “The time for action is here!” The members of the zoo also changed drastically because of this: most people left the small building, either participated in the resistance or fled to other places. Realizing that the time had passed and the German army was about to counterattack, Ya’an resolutely participated in the Warsaw Uprising, was shot and was captured and imprisoned. Antonina also embarked on a journey of escape after releasing the last animals.

In the spring of 1946, Ya’an was released, and the reunited couple began to clean up and restore the dilapidated garden. The Warsaw Zoo, which entrusted the memories of pre-war prosperity and wartime resistance, reopened on July 21, 1949, and became one of the symbols of the restoration of Poland and the reconstruction of Warsaw. The descendants of the European wild horses, aurochs, and bison looted by Lutz Heck, along with Hitler’s dream of a thousand-year empire, were destroyed by the strategic bombing of the Allied forces and returned to the forests of Poland. After the war, the couple started a different division of labor: Yaan began to write for adults, and Antonina began to write children’s books. The only thing that remains the same is the big family formed in the small building: about 300 people once lived temporarily in the “post station” of the Warsaw Zoo, and then escaped. That quaint zoo building has become an important part of their life memories.

In recent years, microhistory has become popular in various fields of historical research, and the history of World War II is no exception. “The Nazis Take Power: The Experience of a Small German Town” “Wine in the Smoke: How the Nazis Seized French Vineyards?” Works such as “Secret Village: The Resistance Movement in Vichy France” began to avoid grand narratives, using marginalized life scenes such as small towns and manors as “memory places” for “World War II” narratives. In Warsaw Zoo, the “memory field”, as told by Diana Ackerman, the microscopic stories in this world war can even arouse our emotion and resonance today. Ya’an has always said that the true hero in this saga is his wife Antonina: “Antonina is a housewife, she stays out of politics, stays away from war as much as possible, she is very timid, but she plays an important role in saving others , and never complained about danger. Her calmness can disintegrate the deepest hostility. Her strength comes from her love for animals. She can not only perceive the emotions of animals, but also seems to be able to get rid of the human perspective and become a leopard or hyena , Inherit the fighting instinct of these animals, and stand up fearlessly to protect the same kind.” The Nazis back then were ambitious, not only trying to control the world, but also delusional to change the global ecology. The value of Antonina and Ya’an is that they don’t hesitate to sacrifice themselves to defend their lives. The significance of micro historiography lies in seeing the big from the small and knowing the work from the small. The story of Antonina belongs to the story of every fascist resister in the “World War II”; the small zoo mansion is also the epitome of the battlefield defending the value of life all over the world.

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