Jessica Allen

Barbarians at the Gate

In 1935, the Warsaw Zoo was an Edenic haven in the urban center. Small deer and peacocks wandered freely along gravel pathways, past lions, tigers, elephants, rhinos, hippos and other creatures enclosed in areas designed to resemble natural habitats. Jan Zabinski, the director, managed a large staff, wrote scholarly books, tended beehives and daydreamed about creating the best zoo in Europe. The zookeeper’s wife, Antonia, gave tours to visitors and also nursed sick or orphaned animals alongside her son in a villa on the grounds. A “zoological cantanta hard to score” filled the air.