In the 1930s, Jan Żabiński was the director of the thriving zoo in Warsaw, Poland; his wife Antonina had a remarkable sympathy for animals, and their villa in the zoo was a nursery and residence for numerous animals as well as their own son. This life came to an abrupt end with the German invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939, which started World War II (1939-1945). Most of the zoo's animals and structures were destroyed in the bombings and siege of the city. The zoo was closed under German occupation, but the Żabińskis continued to occupy the villa, and the zoo itself was used first as a pig farm and subsequently as a fur farm.
Jan and Antonina Żabiński became active with the Polish underground resistance. At the villa and in the zoo's structures, they secretly sheltered Jews, most escaping from the doomed Warsaw ghetto. As many as 300 such "guests" passed through the zoo, and many did survive the war with the assistance of the Żabińskis and other members of the underground. The German occupiers executed those they discovered helping Jews. Nonetheless, Antonina Żabińska maintained a semblance of prewar life at the villa, harboring a menagerie of animals - otters, a badger, hyena pups, lynxes - as well as the secret guests. While Jan Żabiński was wounded in the armed August 1944 Warsaw uprising against the German occupiers, the Żabińskis survived the war. The zoo reopened in 1949, with Jan as its new director.
On September 21, 1965, Yad Vashem (Israel's official memorial to the Jewish victims of the Holocaust) recognized Jan and Antonina Żabiński as Righteous Among the Nations.