Friday, January 13, 2017

Analysis on Antonina Zabinski from THE ZOOKEEPER'S WIFE: Her Ability To Maintain The Identity of the Animals She Loved . . .

Christal Cooper

Analysis by Chris Rice Cooper:   “The Psychological Enigma of Antonina Zabinski” from Diane Ackerman’s  The Zookeeper’s Wife

      In 1939 in Poland Antonina Zabinski was a young 31-year-old woman who, along with her husband Jan, 42, ran the Warsaw Zoological Garden.   

The couple, along with their son Rhys, lived in a two story three-bedroom 1930s stucco and glass villa located in the middle of the Warsaw Zoological Garden.

       The Warsaw Zoological Garden was 75 acres of forests, ponds, buildings (the Pheasant House, the Lion’s House, the carpentry shop); storerooms, pantries, barns; pavilions; cages, and varying habitats for different animals.

       The War Zoological Garden housed a massive collection of animals, 1500 total:  antelopes, bee hives, badgers, bears, bison, cats, cheetah, the largest crocodile, cuckoos, donkeys, rarest eagle, elk, deer, elephants, flamingos, foxes, giraffes, hyenas, gibbons, horses, jaguars, lions, monkeys, ostriches, parrots, peacocks, pelicans, wild penguins, pigs, tree porcupines, rabbits, ravens, the heaviest rhino, seals, squirrels, black swans, oldest turtle, wolves, and zebras.

       In September of 1939 Germany invaded Poland and everything changed:  the Nazis took most of their animals away to place in Nazi-controlled zoos in Germany. 

The other animals were shot by employees for safety reasons, some slaughtered by gun-happy and hard-drinking Nazis for sport, and other animals were killed to feed hungry people. 

       As a result, Antonina and Jan had to resort to having their zoo become a pig farm and then a fur farm. 
       On October 12, 1940 the Nazis forced all the Jews from Poland to leave their homes, friends, belongings, and communities and herded them into a district on the north side of town, which came to be known as the Warsaw Ghetto. 

Brick wall of the Warsaw Ghetto dividing the Iron Gate Square with a view of bombed out Lubomirski Palace (left) on the Aryan side of the city.  Attributed to Ludwig Knoblock.  Photograph taken on May 24, 1941.

In the fall of 1940 Antonina and Jan hosted their first of 300 guests at their zoo, now known as The House Under the Crazy Star, an underground for Jews, particularly those who were in the Warsaw Ghetto.   

To avoid discovery some of these escapees would enter the villa through a drain over that can still be seen in the zoo today.

       This blond, Catholic, devoted wife and mother, skilled pianist, hosted the small menagerie of animals and the 300 Jews without complaining, without being discovered by the Nazi regime, and only losing two Jews to Nazi violence.  

How did this young woman, from the ages of 32 to 36, fool a whole regime for a period of years on behalf of the animals she identified with and the people she loved and considered her equal?

       The answer can be found in Diane Ackerman’s bestseller The Zookeeper’s Wife based on the war story lives of Antonina, Jan, and the animals Antonina identified with.


Jan, a devout scientist, credited Antonina with the “metaphysical waves” of a nearly shamanistic empathy when it came to animals:  “She’s so sensitive, she’s almost able to read their minds, a way of observing and understanding animals that’s rare, a sixth sense –it’s been this way since she was little”

       Ackerman further describes how Antonina slips out of her self to align her own senses with the senses of the individual animal and having her attunement put the animals at ease.

       Her uncanny ability to calm unruly animals earned her the respect of both she the keepers and her husband, who though he believed science would explain it, found her gift nonetheless strange and mysterious. 

       And Antonina the strange mystic was able to form a peaceful resistance not by arming herself with guns and knifes, but maintaining the same identity as the animal and exhibiting the same behaviors as the animal. 

Mixed Media Art by Christal Rice Cooper             

One such occurrence happened in March of 1943 when a fire broke out in one of the zoo’s buildings now being used as a German storage area.  A German soldier on his bicycle approached her in anger about the fire.  Antonina responded to him with the friendliness of a mammal and the charm of the lynx she reared since birth. She convinced him the fire started by some German soldier and his girlfriend from a love fire they didn’t completely extinguish.  As a result, the soldier did not search the buildings that would have revealed the hidden Jews inside.  The German soldier and Antonina engaged in talk about animals as they headed to the villa.  Two more German police officers joined them and were entertained by Antonina’s explanation of why the fire started.  Minutes later Antonina received a phone call from the Gestapo, and she convinced them everything was taken care of. 

With the coast clear, the Guests came out of hiding and hugged her, praising her bravery.  In her diary, she noted that she “couldn’t wait to tell Jan.”

Later the evening, the guests were praising her bravery to her husband Jan, and he went on to explain that this was not Antonina’s bravery that saved them but her ability to exhbit the behaviors of the animals she cared for.
“It’s as if she’s porous.  She’s almost able to read their minds.  It’s a snap for her to find out what’s bothering her animal friends.  Maybe because she treats them like people.  But you’ve seen her.  At a moment’s notice, she can lose her Homo sapiens nature and transform herself into a panther, a badger, or muskrat!”

 In her own diary, Antonina confirms Jan’s psychological point of view of her.

“Jan was right, the German soldiers’ reaction to my telepathic waves was similar to the zoo animals.”

       Antonina’s special ability with these animals and her love of these animals would never take priority over the lives of humanity.  It is her compassion for these 300 Jews that astounds.

Far left, Antonina in her polk-a-dot dress; 
Top, cropped from mixed media art by Christal Rice Cooper
Bottom, Warsaw ghetto wall and footbridge over Chlordan Street
Far right, entrance to the Warsaw Zoological Garden.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

Poet/Painter Gabriele Glang: Menopause Through Poetry & Painting

Christal Cooper

**First two photos of Gabriele Glang attributed to James Martin

Guest Blogger Gabriele Glang:
Thinking About Menopause Through Art

The poem:


is a second chance
at puberty: a circus
of feats not yet dared.

Desires careen
through the weeks, the crisp whip’s slap
on elephants’ hides

goading them to stand
on their hind legs, while dropping
huge piles of shit

on a dusty, straw-
covered floor. And high above:
a dancer poses

on a tightrope thin
as air, while those below bate
their collective breath,

waiting to hear that
fatal thud of the body
thrown off balance.

Love means choosing not
to see, my radio croons
consolingly. But

what do such songs know
of menopause – that second
chance at love and grace

goading us to fly
only on the wings of dreams –
blindly, weightlessly –

the tightrope‘s high-pitched
call: it's time to run away –
ah! – with the circus –

From "Blue Silence Abounds. Nocturnes in a minor key,"
by Gabriele Glang (Palimpsisters Press, 2015).

How I came to write this poem:

One of my dearest (and among the wisest) friends says: getting old is a privilege - not everyone gets to experience it. This poem, with its lapidary title, is all about the mysterious physical and emotional process that maturing women inevitably experience, sooner or later. Just when we think we've got the hang of things, our bodies remind us we are NOT in control. No rite of passage is more ominous, nor accompanied by so much fear, angst, superstition, stereotype.

                  Distress In the Pond part 2 

Well before my own menopause set in, I began to read up on it. How-to books. What-to-expect books. I tried to find positive things. There isn't much, frankly. It's all about the inevitability of gravity and decay. Vanitas, thy name is woman. Menopause might be considered a school of getting used to the notion of one's own mortality.

                  Untameable Heart

All our lives we're taught - ingrained - to please the opposite sex, to tend our outward beauty. We are judged - and misjudged - by how we look. Menopause lets us know it ain't for keeps. We become invisible to the opposite sex. Oh, and by the way, SEX ... but I'm not going to go there.

 Last Summer Love  Pastel on paper 

So this poem explores what’s on the other side. Gabriele through the looking glass.

The most positive thing I discovered in my readings was this: Menopause is a second chance at puberty. I came to see it as an opportunity to reinvent myself. To experiment, be a little crazy, try new and weird things, play new roles, learn new skills, explore latent talents. If I land a flop, I can always blame the hormones - the MALE hormones, nota bene. My kids have flown the nest and now I can do all those things I felt I couldn't do because I lacked the time, courage, or self-confidence to make a fool of myself. I no longer give a fig if I look ridiculous or act incomprehensibly. Ok, admittedly, my sons might on occasion tell me I'm embarrassing to them, but they will have to live with that. More to the point: I can live with that. Tit for tat. After all, I had to cope with their puberty, too.

With the fact of my own mortality no longer a mere theoretical possibility - fueled by the necessity of NOW - I felt suddenly free. Free to leap over my fears, free of unsatisfied yearnings (e.g., fame and fortune), (relatively) freed of unrealistic ambitions. The time has come to consider the very next essential step, whatever that step might be. My first priority is no longer worrying about how to make others happy, but rather figuring out what makes me happy.

                   Splash- pastel on paper 

And the only antidote to the terrifying tightrope of not knowing what's next is to take that proverbial leap of faith into the unknown, catapulting ourselves to the next stage in our journey through this life.

                    A Northern Gloaming pastel on paper

What would you do if you only had one more day to live?