The incredible true life story of how zoo director Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonia helped save over 70 Jews during WWII has become famous through the book and movie The Zookeeper's Wife. The elegant modernist villa, where the Żabińskis lived and risked their lives by hiding Jews, is open for a guided tour, which is well worth doing.
The building has been restored and redecorated much as it was during the Żabiński's time of residence, when some of the tamer zoo animals shared what was fondly known as the 'Crazy Star Villa' with the family. Antonia was a skilled pianist and you can see her piano, on which she would play Offenbach La Belle Hélène as a warning signal that Germans were approaching. Occasional concerts are still held today in the villa's living room and, during summer, in the gardens outside.
In the basement hiding place are displays about the Jews who passed through here and were saved, including the renowned sculptor Magdalena Gross, whose animal figures can be seen around the zoo gardens. In the former dining room there is also a small display from the priceless entomological collections of Dr Szymon Tenenbaum – these had been entrusted to the Żabińskis by Tenenbaum before he was relocated to the ghetto in 1941.