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Stefania SitbonHolocaust Survivor’s Remarkable Wartime Escape Inspired Hollywood Film

On April 12 Circle of Care staff welcomed a very special guest as they gathered to recognize Yom HaShoah – Israel’s day of commemoration for the approximately 6 million Jews who perished in the Holocaust.

Holocaust survivor Stefania Sitbon was among several hundred Jewish children and adults who found safe haven in the Warsaw Zoo in Nazi-occupied Poland. If these details sound familiar, it’s because this amazing story was the basis for the recent Hollywood blockbuster The Zookeeper’s Wife, starring Academy Award-Nominated actress Jessica Chastain.

Just a child during the WW2, Mrs. Sitbon, together with her mother and brother, found safe haven in the Warsaw Zoo’s emptied grounds. “When we were hiding in the zoo, they hid us in cages that had wooden panels. We could see out, but no one could see us,” she explained. “The cages were locked from the outside, so the Nazis wouldn’t think that anyone was inside.”

They were selflessly assisted by Jan and Antonina Zabinski, the Polish couple who owned the zoo, and countless others who risked their lives to help Jewish people escape the Nazis. Eventually, Mrs. Sitbon made it safely to Israel and eventually moved to Canada in 1989. Today, she and her older brother are believed to be the only known living survivors of the hundreds who found safety by passage through the zoo.

The presentation was part of Circle of Care’s ongoing effort to help all employees better understand the unique challenges and circumstances facing its 1,500 Holocaust survivors and their families.

“I saw the movie when it first came out, and I was so moved by it,” said Stacey Quallo, Triage Operator at Circle of Care. “But hearing from Mrs. Sitbon first hand, was one of the most powerful and memorable experiences I’ve ever had at work. And it’s something that I’ll be able to carry with me as I deal with clients every day.”

Circle of Care is the largest Canadian grant recipient from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, allowing Holocaust Survivors to live out their lives with dignity.