Victims of Nazi Pseudo-science
Zwoje  Copyright C 1997-2007

Nazi plunder of Warsaw Zoo
It was September 1939. Screams of dying and wounded animals mingled with whistling projectiles and explosions as Warsaw's Zoological Garden, located near the capital's air defences, came under heavy German bombardment. Polar bears ran loose, their white furs streaked with blood. Kasia the elephant died struck by a shell, while her two-year old daughter Tuzinka (only the twelfth known elephant to have been born in a zoo up to that time) trumpeted her distress. A giraffe lay dying, her legs splayed at a grotesque angle. In the aviary, parrots, their wings on fire, spun themselves upwards only to fall staggering and dying on the ground. In the inferno of their cages and pens, helpless, wild-eyed apes and antelopes sounded a cacophony of screeches. Some animals miraculously escaped. Camels and llamas wandered along the banks of the Vistula. Hippopotamuses, bears, bison, elks and lynxes mingled amicably as otters and beavers waited patiently in their basins. Antonina Żabinska, whose husband, Jan, the director of the zoo since 1929, was still at the front, wondered how many people would experience the fate which had befallen her beloved animals. She asked herself why it was that some animals appeared to lose their predatory characteristics for a time, while humans could so quickly become more rapacious than the wildest beasts.
Following Warsaw's surrender, a number of important German officials arrived at the bombed-out zoo. Chief among them was Professor Lutz Heck. Heck was the director of the Berlin Zoological Garden; his father, Ludwig, had held the same position;1 a brother, Heinz, was the director of the Hellabrunn Zoological Garden in Munich. The family had been ardent supporters of the Nazi movement from its inception. One purpose of Lutz Heck's mission in Poland was to dispatch the finest remaining animals to zoos in Germany. He also planned a visit to Białowieża, Poland's primaeval forest which spreads over the border of Central and Eastern Europe and is home to the żubr (żubr and tur are used interchangeably for the Polish bison, but tur is extinct since the 17th century) and to descendants of the rare, wild Tarpan horses. Żabinska recalled how attentive Heck had been at prewar conferences to herself and her husband and that he had sent them personal greetings and photographs of rare animals. It was very flattering: Heck was, after all, responsible for all matters relating to hunting and the maintenance of animal preserves in the Third Reich. Now Heck, capitalizing on his status and prewar contacts with the Żabinskis, assured her that, while he had no influence on decisions taken by higher authorities in Germany - a patent falsehood - he would do everything in his power to mitigate all pertinent regulations for the Warsaw zoo and facilitate the raising of pigs for food. He also assured her that her favourite lynxes would be under his special care in the Schorfheide zoo. As for the other animals taken to Germany, he gave a solemn promise that they were on loan!

A bizarre experiment
The Nazis paid particular attention to the promotion of animal rights, especially wild species, and were pioneers in implementing the most far-reaching environmental policies of their time. From the earliest days of the Hitler regime they passed numerous laws protecting animal life: a prominent zoologist was reprimanded when the worms he had anaesthetized in an experiment continued to move! Heck, an authority on animal life, had become increasingly prominent in the Nazi hierarchy (he was on very good terms with the SS), and was a favourite of Hitler and Goering.2
Heck had special reasons for visiting occupied Poland. In addition to wholesale thefts of animals from the Warsaw zoo and other preserves and absconding with priceless historical records of breeding by Polish animal experts, he had persuaded the Nazi authorities that by bringing to Germany the żubr from the Białowieża forest preserve he would achieve two goals. He would work on the "reconstruction" of the auroch (tur) 3 as well as for the "protection" of the zubr against "racial degeneration." For the "reconstruction" of the auroch he used domestic cattles and cows.
This was to be the crowning act of Heck's career. He wanted to breed through the process of artificial selection (genetic engineering as a technology did not exist before 1970) an animal that had been extinct since 1700, a beast that, like the swastika, was to be an icon for the Third Reich. This was one of the most bizarre of the Nazi "scientific" experiments.
The Warsaw zoo, which but for the outbreak of the war would have played host in 1940 to the International Association of Zoo Directors (a tribute to the growing reputation of its director, whose zoo had been in existence for only 12 years), now saw its surviving rare animals shipped to German animal parks. Heck wasted no time in sending the elephant Tuzinka to Königsberg, the camels and llamas to Hanover, the hippopotamuses to Nuremberg, the Przewalski horses to Vienna, and the lynxes and zebras to Schorfheide. During the first winter of occupation, in spite of Heck's promises to protect what few animals remained at the zoo, some Gestapo men could not resist roaming the grounds and hunting down remnants of wild life.

Jews hidden in the zoo
Even as the Warsaw zoo was losing its most valuable animals to death and deportation, it now acquired what was undoubtedly one of the rarest species of the times: live Jews. An unexpected visit to the zoo by Dr Ziegler, a German zoologist and entomologist appointed to head the ghetto's "labour bureau," came dangerously close to revealing a closely guarded secret. One morning, as Żabinska watched in shock, a limousine screeched to a halt in front of the villa. Ziegler had come to see the famous insect collection which Dr Szymon Tenenbaum, a world-renowned entomologist and head of a Jewish gymnasium now in the ghetto, had entrusted to his friend Żabinski.4 The zoo director's wife struck piano chords vigorously as he entered. "What a cheerful atmosphere!", Ziegler beamed on hearing 'Travel to Crete' from Offenbach's La Belle Hélene. Ziegler, who was also receiving treatment in the ghetto from Tenenbaum's wife, Irene, a dentist, did not suspect that the sudden sounds of the Offenbach tune were a signal to Jews hiding in adjacent rooms that a German had entered. "Oh, well," Ziegler smiled patronizingly at Żabinska, "Offenbach was a shallow composer. But one has to admit that on the whole Jews are a talented people!"
Escorting Ziegler to the ghetto on subsequent trips to meet Tenenbaum was to give Żabinski an opportunity to be seen as an acquaintance of the labour bureau head as he went back and forth through the checkpoint. Indeed, the crossing through which Ziegler went to his offices was very lightly guarded. This was crucial. It enabled Żabinski eventually to smuggle more Jews into the zoo, where they were first hidden in cages for pheasants and then brought into the villa at night. For those whose appearance and fluency in Polish enabled them to be smuggled to the "Aryan side," false identity papers were prepared. Most of the close to 30 Jews had to remain at the zoo. Had this enterprise become known to the Germans, the death penalty would almost certainly have been imposed on all involved.
In 1948 Żabinski (he and his wife were cited in 1965 by the Jerusalem Holocaust Memorial Authority Yad Vashem as "Righteous Gentiles") outlined in testimony to Warsaw's Jewish Historical Institute his motivation and the methods he had used to outwit the Germans. Now that a discussion rages once again on the phenomenon of anti-Semitism in Poland,5 it is useful to read his words. "I am a democratic Pole", he stated at the outset:
"My deeds were and are the consequence of a certain psychological state of mind - an upbringing that was progressive and humanistic and derived from my parents and the gymnasium I attended . I didn't belong to any party and no party programme was my guide during the occupation. I am an individualist and I don't like to be restricted by any regimen."6
In another account deposited in the Jewish Historical Institute and which was sent to me some years ago by Michal Grynberg, the former director of the Jewish Historical Institute, Żabinski stated that anti-Jewish sentiment in Polish society had been artificially created: "I have never found any trait of character justifying hatred of Jews . it is a matter of indifference to me whether it [hatred] concerns Danes, Jews or Englishmen. It is just a question of who is decent."7 Żabinski also worked with the Home Army forces (reaching the rank of first lieutenant) and was entrusted with storing explosives in the zoo area, a particularly dangerous mission since the area was also a storage site for German army supplies. He also taught general biology and parasitology at the Faculty of Pharmacy and Dental Medicine of Warsaw's secret university. But he had no doubt about his efforts to help the Jews of Warsaw: "The Germans," - he wrote - "did everything to starve to death half a million people." When pigs were raised at the zoo (sows were imported from Denmark), Żabinski had another pretext to make frequent trips to the ghetto: 'I had a pass to go to the ghetto to obtain scraps for feeding pigs. Because of that I could bring notes, bacon and butter and carry messages for friends.' The Jewish friends he saved included Irene Tenenbaum (her husband died suddenly in 1941) and her daughter, Lonia; Kazimierz Kramsztyk; and Professor Hirszfeld and Roza Anzelówna from the National Hygiene Institute. With Ziegler as his unwitting cover, Żabinski paid a visit to the ghetto in an attempt to save Tenenbaum's wife and daughter Irena (the latter was killed by the Gestapo while attempting to seek refuge in Cracow), as well as the sister of Kazimierz Kramsztyk, who died of typhus in the ghetto. He also managed to transport to the villa relatives of Kramsztyk such as the lawyer Marcel Lewi-Lebkowski, a leader of the Polish Socialist Party who died in 1944, the lawyer Maurycy Frankel, who worked for the Judenrat, and Frankel's close friend, the internationally known sculptress Magdalena Gross, whose works displayed at the zoo before the war were much admired. Others who were rescued were, according to Żabinski, Wanda Englertowa (Rotwand) and the Kenigswein family, who came to the zoo in November 1943. Kenigswein, a well-known Maccabi boxer and father-in-law of the zoo supplier, Sobola, fought alongside Mordechai Anielowicz in the Warsaw ghetto uprising. The entire family of Sobola's daughter also hid in the zoo. Still others who sought refuge in that veritable Noah's Ark (some Poles referred to Żabinski's villa as "The House Under a Crazy Star") were a Mrs Weiss (the wife of a lawyer), Mrs Poznańska, the Keller family (including a child), Jolanta Kramsztyk, the daughter of Andrzej Kramsztyk, Maria Aszerówna, Rachela Auerbach, the famous underground fighter, and Genia Sylkes. Before arriving at the zoo, Rachela, under the name of Aniela Dobrucka, had worked with Żegota (Polish Council for Aid to Jews), an organization of Poles devoted to the support of Jews in hiding. It was Rachela who brought to the zoo Genia Sylkes, who jumped out of a cattle car en route to an extermination camp. She had the "physical appearance" of an Aryan but a poor command of Polish. She pretended to be a mute.8
Most of those who had sought refuge at the zoo survived the war. Pawel and Magda, who married while in hiding, went to Lublin then returned to Warsaw. Regina Kenigswein emigrated to Israel. Genia Sylkes went to New York, where she worked at the YIVO library. Rachela Auerbach went to London carrying a message from Jan Żabinski on the fate of the żubr to Julian Huxley, the director of the London Zoo before the war. Rachela Auerbach eventually settled in Israel. At the time of the Six Day War of 1967, Regina Kenigswein wrote to Żabinski: "We want to live in peace and build our beautiful country, Israel, but they won't let us." Irena Mayzel, another survivor from the Warsaw zoo, brought Jan and Antonina Żabinski on a visit to Israel at her own expense.

Living with the animals
Jews brought into the zoo came via a subterranean passage to the former lions' cage, where the new German-approved cottage industry of processing fox and mink furs now operated. There were no windows but there was running water and a toilet. Heating pipes provided warmth. After a few days they were brought to the cellar of the villa. The most difficult part was providing food for the ever-increasing "family." Everyone in the director's immediate family requested seconds in order to feed the starving guests. This led to suspicions on the part of the zoo's cooking staff, some of whom had to be dismissed. When the time came to assist the Jewish guests in obtaining Aryan papers for their perilous journey to the outside, Żabinska, in an attempt to hide the dark hair of the Jews (they were not "of good appearance," as the Polish expression had it), dyed everyone's hair red. It was the only colour she had. As her seven-year old son Ryszard put it: "You've turned them all into squirrels!" (When I interviewed Ryszard on my first visit to the Warsaw zoo in 1989 he recalled his mother taking him to a local store where the shopkeeper said: "My dear lady, your son looks like a little Jew.") Jan Żabinski marvelled at his wife's composure throughout the ordeal, linking it with her love for animals. But he suggested that she did not identify with the animals but had given up her human traits and turned into a panther, a badger, a fighter. Her observations of animals gave her an instinct that made her fearless in defence of her own species. And her confidence could disarm even the most hostile.
For the Jews hiding at the zoo life was a ritual of everyday activities while living on a knife's edge. For a while there was even telephone contact with the ghetto. Postcards arrived from the 'Aryan side'. Those at the zoo were able to follow the progress of the ghetto uprising in April 1943. But communication with those who lived and died in the Warsaw ghetto was not necessary. The terrible news came from above. One day ashes and a confetti-like shower of burnt paper from the Jewish quarter descended on the zoo as from a volcanic eruption.
By 1944, at the time of the Warsaw uprising, conditions at the zoo had become ever more precarious. The increasing number of visits from the German gendarmerie brought a constant sense of foreboding. Those in hiding were never more than a few feet from their would-be pursuers. The intruders included a couple of German soldiers who brought an eagle and asked that it be kept for them. At one point, an SS detachment came and shot Ryszard's pet chicken, telling the grief-stricken boy: "We played a trick on you!" Ryszard was devastated after losing a succession of pets that included a piglet he had raised but which had been taken away by the German soldiers to be slaughtered. There was a visit by a band of wild-eyed, drunken Vlasovites. The troops of Vlasov, the Red Army general who had defected to the Germans, were known for their cruelty towards the remnant of Jews in Warsaw. They came, according to Żabinska, "like wild animals." Yet their behaviour was also child-like: they handed out chocolates and sweets to children in the villa. Their leader forced his men to return the booty they had taken from the zoo and gave Żabinska a ring with a Polish eagle in all probability removed from the finger of a dead fighter. Perhaps the most bizarre visit was that of a drunken German officer who played Bach on the piano and then asked Żabinska to play. She played a Schubert serenade. "No," he gasped, "Not that!", the tune clearly evoking a painful memory. He picked up from the piano a book of national anthems and began to play The Star Spangled Banner. The war was clearly coming to an end.
Jan Żabinski, taken prisoner after being seriously wounded during the 1944 uprising, came back from the internment camp. Some animals were returned to the zoo. Polish soldiers brought back a badger in a barrel: he had dug his way out of the cage during the bombardment and swum across the Vistula. The zoo opened its gates again in 1949.

"The return of Hitler's cow"
An article in the Warsaw newspaper Gazeta Wyborcza, "Powrót Hitlerowskiej Krowy" ("The Return of Hitler's Cow," 30 March 2000), by the nature specialist Adam Wajrak, provides a detailed account of Heck's career and the background to German experiments on the żubr and the tarpan horse. The article was a review of a work by the biologist and historian Piotr Daszkiewicz and the journalist Jean Aikhenbaum, Aurochs, le retour . d'une supercherie nazie, which provides an account of Heck's efforts at crossbreeding and of the gullibility (and amnesia) of Western animal specialists who are still willing to accept the false claims for monetary rather than scientific reasons.
Daszkiewicz's and Aikhenbaum's account of Heck's career reads like a detective story. It tells how Heck and his brother had planned to re-create the tur, a Polish mammal extinct since 1627 and a creature similar to, though much larger than, the żubr 9. They had searched through old records and illustrations and thought they could crossbreed bulls and cows from Hungary, Scotland, Corsica, Spain and France, and, by eliminating the 'cow' and domestic characteristics, arrive at the tur 10.



Auroch (tur) as illustrated in the 16th century book by Sigmund Herberstein [11].
These illustrations were used by Lutz Heck as reference in his experiments on pseudo-reconstruction of the auroch.

They had been engaged in this pursuit since the 1930s although eminent zoologists, geneticists and breeding experts were of the view that the Heck brothers would bring into the world a "new cow" rather than the long-extinct tur. For German lovers of the Nibelungen mythological heroes with helmets bearing the fearsome horns, the tur represented power, much like the swastika. (The cover of the Daszkiewicz and Aikhenbaum work shows the ancient tur with the swastika standard.)


The cover of the book by Daszkiewicz and Aikhenbaum (1999).
But there was of course more to the crossbreeding experiment than the re-creation of an extinct species. The Nazi policies of sterilization, euthanasia and eventually mass murder were all of one piece with the German theories of racial superiority. The Hecks were impressed by the activities of Eugene Fischer, one of the fathers of Nazi racial pseudo-science and the first director of the Institute of Anthropology, Genetics and Eugenics of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute. Fischer had earlier held views contrary to those of Nazi 'true believers' but, after Hitler's accession to power, he praised Nazi racial ideology and launched numerous projects that supported the biological aims of the Nazi movement. He provided advice on racial purity cases to the Nazis and eventually his institute trained the murderous SS doctors. In 1942 his successor at the institute, Otmar von Verschuer, was the teacher of Josef Mengele. Both teacher and student were interested in the study of twins. Once at Auschwitz, Mengele supplied the institute with blood and skeletons of camp victims. Fischer, like the Nobel Prize recipient Konrad Lorenz, a student of human aggression, argued that the distinguishing features of human races bore a resemblance to the mutations in domesticated animals. Both believed that 'domestication' threatened the human species as it had eliminated the 'beautiful, good and heroic' of wild animal life. Hecks, who knew Fischer personally, was eager to apply his ideas and those of Lorenz to re-creating the tur. To Heinrich Himmler and the SS, involved in such enterprises as sending an expedition to Tibet in search of the antecedents of the so-called Aryan race, Heck's plan to re-create the tur, a symbol of brute strength, was a godsend. The mythology-starved Nazis looked far and wide for species that would distinguish the Germanic flora and fauna from that of Asiatic types. Heck's experiment in animal re-creation was under the patronage of Goering - an enthusiastic hunter of animals rather than their protector as evidenced from the prewar photographs at Białowieża - and lavishly funded. The grateful Heck established for Goering a special hunting preserve at Schorfheide. In 1938 a meeting of the Society for the Protection of the Żubr took place under Goering's patronage. Heck, who had already attempted to cross the żubr with the American bison in 1927, also imported bison from Canada and conducted crossbreeding experiments at Schorfheide. In 1941, in the midst of the war that was the culmination of Nazi insane experimentation with human and animal life, Goering was made the patron of the Białowieża primaeval forest, although that did not spare the beautiful, old tsarist lodges as the German army began its retreat.



European bison (żubr) as illustrated in the 17th century book by Conrad Gesner [12].

Heck, man of mystery
The purpose of Heck's visit to Poland in September 1939 was not to only obtain as many żubr as possible for his breeding experiments but also to bring back to Germany rare Polish horses, the successors of the wild, fighting tarpan, last seen in Lithuania in the late eighteenth century.13 Heck wanted to re-create the tarpan through crossbreeding with Shetland ponies and Arabian and Przewalski horses. Experiments of this type, already conducted before the war, were criticized by tarpan experts such as Tadeusz Vetulani (who demanded the return of the stolen horses after the war) and Heck's efforts in this pseudo-science became, as with the zubr, a laughing stock among many zoologists.
Heck's postwar writings testify to the amnesia that has been the hallmark of perpetrators, and, even more unfortunately, of the world at large, since 1945. His book, My Adventure, published in Germany in 1952 and translated into English in 1954, is a prime example of this. While he writes at great length in the chapter "Zoo in Flames" of the damage caused to his beloved Berlin zoo by Allied bombing, he never mentions the damage he witnessed at the Warsaw zoo. "It seemed incredible," he wrote, "that a zoological garden with its innocent animals could be seriously considered as a target for bombs." He added self-pityingly that "we of the Zoo had been dealt a terrible blow by fate."
In the book's long chapter "The Aurochs" Heck elaborated on his breeding experiments. He was certain that he had succeeded in re-creating the animal extinct since 1627. It was the animal's brute power that he prized above all. Heck was a great admirer of the Spanish fighting bull that he used in his breeding experiments, an animal that "must be eager to fight to the death." As for the bloody German occupation of Poland, Heck benignly described the five years of war as life under "a German administration." He noted that his animals (which of course he had stolen) were first let loose in the Prussian forest preserve at Rominten, and were transferred to the forest of Białowieża in 1942 to breed.
Heck's prose reached a sort of apotheosis as he wrote of the efforts to increase the stock of extinct and destroyed animals, particularly the American buffalo. As he put it: "One of the most shocking chapters in the history of our day is that concerned with the almost complete destruction . of a whole great species, full of vitality, simply through human folly and greed, ambition and blind destructiveness." He did not have the Jewish people in mind.
* * *
Daszkiewicz wonders not only about the acceptance of Heck's pseudo-scientific experiments by a gullible world today but about Heck's many pre-war travels worldwide, expeditions organized and financed by Goering. Since German commercial airplanes were surreptitiously photographing Polish and Russian terrain before the invasion, is it not possible that Heck's missions to various continents involved espionage in addition to the pursuit of wild game? Heck's importance to Hitler may be gauged by the fact that, as the war was nearing its end, he was spirited out of Russian territory and flown back to Germany. He was regarded by the Russians as a war criminal for his theft of animals in Ukrainian animal preserves but he evaded capture by remaining in the French zone of occupation. Still no serious effort was made to apprehend him. Daszkiewicz wonders whether Heck's extensive worldwide contacts (as those of other Nazis) would not make him useful in the postwar years to the Russians, and thus render him immune to prosecution for what were considered thefts and depredations in Polish- and Russian-occupied territories? And the question to which Daszkiewicz returns time and time again: what is the financial source of SIERDAH (Syndicat International Pour l'Elevage, La Réintroduction et Le Développement de l'Auroche de Heck) that continues to promote the Heck aurochs?
Heck, who represented the insane aims of the Nazi movement to re-create a perfect beast while exterminating "imperfect" humans, died in 1983. A year later, his bust was installed in a place of honour in the Berlin zoo. It may be that some of the answers to the above questions died with him.

Closing thoughts on Jews and buffaloes
Daszkiewicz and Aikhenbaum have uncovered many unpublished documents concerning Heck's mission to plunder animals from Polish zoos, from the primaeval forest of Białowieża, and from other preserves in Poland and Ukraine. They have noted the pioneering work of the Warsaw zoo director, Żabinski, who was an authority on the żubr. His zoo was an integral part of the effort to rescue the largest land mammal in Europe. He worked to bring bison from elsewhere and to let them loose at Białowieża. In 1938 he prepared the last inventory of the żubr. On his return to the Warsaw zoo he involved himself once again in protecting the żubr. He was instrumental in returning to Polish archives the important work on geneology of the żubr stolen by the Germans. From 1947 to his retirement he headed the International Association for the Protection of the Żubr. He never ceased to call attention to the depredations of the Heck brothers.
It is thus shocking to see that Heck's past seems to have been forgotten. Ignoring not only the Nazi and criminal background of Heck and his associations, some European animal specialists seem to accept his "aurochs" as a scientific fact. In France, in addition to the activities of SIERDAH, Heck's spurious experiments, which recall the Soviet promotion of the ideas of the bogus geneticist Trofim Lysenko, are paraded as "scientific" achievements by the Nantes-based Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire. Other animal parks in Western Europe have devoted resources to this Steven Spielberg-like fantasy. It is scandalous that they have continued to use the ideas and name of a war criminal who escaped justice and, although Heck is no longer alive, a good number of zoos and animal parks in Europe are now displaying to paying visitors the so-called Heck auroch. The authors provide a list of 36 animal parks in France, Belgium, Holland, Switzerland, Sweden, Spain and Hungary that present to a gullible public examples of the "Heck aurochs." To add insult to injury, French zoologists want to show this supposed tur in Poland despite the fact that tests show that the Heck "cattle" have no connection with the ancient and extinct animal and that crossbreeding has resulted in sickly animals with brittle bones.
* * *
I visited the Warsaw zoo in the late 1980s to trace the story of Jews saved in cages and in 1999 I went to Białowieża, where the last of the noble żubr can be seen. It is a story that has reverberated in my mind: Jews and buffaloes, victims of Nazi pseudo-science. People and animals that tried to survive (and only a handful did) as the metal-gray wave inundated their lands.
During the Kosovo war and the bombing of Belgrade in the late 1990s, a story about the Belgrade zoo caught my attention. Few creatures are more helpless in time of war than zoo animals and their plight is generally ignored when, understandably, the human casualties are of greater concern. But when I read how starving animals in the Belgrade zoo gnawed at their own legs and others aborted and ate their young I could not help thinking about the Warsaw zoo and Żabinska's comments about 'people and animals'. We do not have to agree with the anthropomorphic view presented in the recent work of J. M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals, which conflates the sufferings of animals with the horrors of concentration camps, but we should not fail to see how cruelties inflicted by humans on animals diminish all life.
* * *
I would like to pay tribute to the late, brave Jan Żabinski, the director of the Warsaw zoo, and his wife Antonina, who risked their lives to save Jews from the Warsaw ghetto. Her book, Ludzie i Zwierzęta (People and Animals, Warsaw, 1968) is invaluable for the details of this little-known Holocaust story.
I also wish to thank Ryszard Żabinski, who shared his memories with me and recalled his parents' dangerous work, and Dr Maciej Rembiszewski, the present director of the Warsaw zoo, who in 1989 showed me the villa and cages where Jews were hidden.
I am above all grateful to the biologist Piotr Daszkiewicz and his collaborator Jean Aikhenbaum for their continuing work on exposing Nazi crimes against human and animal life alike. Both have been fighting the current propagation of the so-called Heck aurochs in various zoos and animal parks in Western Europe and have generously shared the fruits of their research with me. Daszkiewicz and Aikhenbaum have written many works, including over 200 articles, on zoological and botanical subjects.

This article is an introductory part of my work-in-progress on Nazi racist ideas concerning humans and animals and their implications for our times.

This article was first published in 2001 in London:
Frank Fox: "Jews and Buffaloes, Victims of Nazi Pseudo-science", East European Jewish Affairs, 31, No. 2, 2001, pp. 82-93.

Frank Fox is a historian and a Professor Emeritus at the West Chester University, PA, specializing in East European history.


  • It may be worth a footnote in history that in 1938, when Lutz Heck was the director of the Berlin Zoological Garden, Jews were no longer permitted to visit the zoo and the lifetime memberships of Jewish families that had acquired through purchase of shares in the zoo were confiscated. A descendant of a Berlin family living in the United States has been trying (with great effort) not only to discover who acquired his family's privilege to visit but also to obtain this right again for his grandchild. Professor Werner Cohn's correspondence with Berlin zoo officials may be seen on his web site: http:www.wernercohn.com.zoo.html.
  • Two documents in the Princeton University Archives are signed by Heck. The first, dated 28 December 1939, is addressed to 'our beloved Führer' and it extends New Year's greetings 'for a year in which German arms will be victorious'. The second, dated January 1940, is an honorary entry ticket to the Berlin zoo for our 'Führer und Reichskanzler'. Piotr Daszkiewicz made these documents available to me.
  • Auroch is defined by The Oxford Universal Dictionary (3rd edition, 1955) as an 'extinct species of Wild Ox . described by Caesar as Urus . the name applied erroneously to the European Bison .'
  • Professor Tenenbaum was one of the foremost entomologists of his time; his pioneering work on the beetles of the Balearic Islands was published in five volumes. In spite of the terrible conditions in the ghetto, he continued his work, writing articles, keeping entomological records and collecting insects. His fellow naturalists suffered at the hands of the Germans. A colleague, Dr Michael Suminski, was arrested by the Gestapo in 1942 and murdered in prison the following year. Another scholar, Dr Roman Kuntze, was killed along with his wife in 1944. Tenenbaum's fellow naturalists prepared for him a plan to escape from the ghetto but he refused to leave. In November 1939 the SS stole from Warsaw's Zoological Garden over 200 precious books, some collections and microscopes but overlooked the Tenenbaum collection of 500,000 specimens. These were saved three weeks before the 1944 uprising and transported to the Museum of Zoology. Tenenbaum's widow offered the collections to the State Museum of Zoology after the war in accordance with the wishes of her husband. I am grateful to Piotr Daszkiewicz for the above information.
  • See Frank Fox, "A Skeleton in Poland's Closet: The Jedwabne Massacre", East European Jewish Affairs, Vol. 31, No. 1, 2001, 77-94.
  • T. Bernstein and A. Rutkowski, "Rada Pomocy Żydom w Polsce Żegota" (The Council to Help Jews in Poland), Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego (Warsaw), No. 65-66, 1968, 198-99.
  • Archives of the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw, 1948, # 5704.
  • Detailed biographies of those hidden in the zoo may be found in Władysław Bartoszewski and Zofia Lewinowna, Ten Jest z Mojej Ojczyzny: Polacy z Pomocą Żydom, 1939-1945 (He is from My Homeland: Poles and Assistance to Jews, 1939-1945) (Krakow: Znak, 1969), 498-99. These are taken almost verbatim from Żabinska's work Ludzie i Zwierzęta ("People and Animals").
  • A horn of one of the last Polish auroches, in a silver setting with an engraved inscription "Róg turzy ostatniego turu z Puszczy Sochaczewskiej od wojewody rawskiego Stanisława Radziejowskiego na ten czas starosti sochaczewskiego 1621" (An auroch horn of the last auroch from the Sochaczew Forest given by the Rawa Voivode Stanislaw Radziejowski at that time the Sochaczew Starost 1621), is preserved at the Arsenal Museum (Livrustkammaren) in Stockholm, Sweden.
  • Lutz Heck in his crossbreeding experiments towards the "genetic reconstruction" of the auroch used exclusively the domestic cattle of various race. He assumed that domestic cattle is descendant to auroch (it is truly so) and that the cattle of some primitive races (e.g. French Camargue cattle or Hungarian Puszta cattle) retained some "primitive qualities" of the auroch; different races retaining different primitive characteristics. According to Heck, it was then possible to arrive by a crossbreeding selection at an animal that would "amass the primitive, atavistic auroch qualities" of the cattle and thus finally become a "reconstructed auroch". Heck's experiments with horses were based on a different assumption as he crossbred horses of some races with the Przewalski horse. His experiments with European bison [żubr] were of yet another kind; he interbred European bison and American bison in order, as he believed, to "refresh the blood of the degenerating European bison [żubr]"). It is noteworthy that breeding ideas, similar to Heck's, to reconstruct wild animals by crossbreeding domestic animals did exist both before after his experiments. Obviously, in modern natural sciences and, in particular, in modern genetics such ideas are considered simply absurd. However, such is the true story of Heck's experiments. [Piotr Daszkiewicz]
  • Sigmund Herberstein, Rerum moscoviticarum commentarij, sigismundo libero authore : russia breauissima descriptio, & de religione eorum varia inserta sunt. Chorographia totius imperij moscici, & vicinorum quorundam mentio. Antverpiae, Ioannis Steelsij, 1557.
  • Conrad Gesner, Historiae animalium Lib. I, de quadrupedibus viviparis ... Conradi Gesneri ... Edition Editio secunda ... Editeur, date Francofurti,~in bibliopolio Cambieriano, #1603.
  • Some specialists consider Poland, and particularly the animal park of the Zamoyski family, the last home of the tarpan. The Konik Polski (Polish horse) is a descendant of the forest tarpan, a subspecies described by Vetulani. The true tarpan lived on the Ukrainian steppes and disappeared at the end of the nineteenth century, about 100 years later than the tarpan in Polish and Lithuanian forests.


Sources consulted: 

  • Kai Artinger, "Lutz Heck: 'Der Vater der Rominter Ure': Einige Bemerkungen zum wissenschaftlichen Leiter des Berliner Zoos im Nationalsocialismus", Der Bär (Berlin), No. 43, 1994, 125-38.
  • Anna Bramwell, Ecology in the 20th Century: A History. Yale University Press, New Haven, 1989.
  • J. M. Coetzee, The Lives of Animals (Princeton University Press, 1999). This was presented as part of the Tanner Lectures at Princeton University.
  • Piotr Daszkiewicz, "Polska zoologiczna misja rewindykacja w świetle dokumentów z archiwum Tadeusza Vetulaniego" (The Polish zoological mission to reclaim animals looted in Poland during the Second World War in the light of documents from the archives of Professor Tadeusz Vetulani), Przegląd Zoologiczny, XLV, 3-4.
  • Piotr Daszkiewicz and Jean Aikhenbaum, Aurochs, le retour d'une supercherie nazie. Histoire, Sciences, Totalitarisme, Ethique et Société, Paris, 1999.
  • Michał Grynberg, "Pomoc Udzielana Żydom w Czasie Okupacji Hitlerowskiej w Polsce" (Assistance to Jews during the Nazi Occupation of Poland), Biuletyn Żydowskiego Instytutu Historycznego, No. 2 (1977) 142
  • Lutz Heck, Animals - My Adventure (translated with some omissions by E.W. Dickes) from Tiere-Mein Abenteur, published by Ullstein Verlag, Austria in 1952, first published in England in 1954 by Methuen.
  • Fabrice Nicolino, 'L'histoire d'une supercherie scientifique', Politis, No. 578, 9 December 1999.
  • Boria Sax, Animals in the Third Reich: Pets, Scapegoats and the Holocaust. New York, Continuum, 2000
  • Stanisław Strzetelski, Goering Poluje na Rysie (Goering Hunts For the Lynx). M. I. Kolin, London, 1942).
  • Adam Wajrak, "Powrót Hitlerowskiej Krowy" (The Return of Hitler's Cow), Gazeta Wyborcza Warsaw, 30 March 2000.
  • Douglas R. Weiner, "Demythologizing Environmentalism" Journal of History of Biology, 25, No. 3 (1992).
  • Zbigniew Woliński, Wspomnienie (A Reminiscence), a personal document deposited with the Jewish Historical Institute in Warsaw in October 1974.
  • Antonina Żabinska, Ludzie i Zwierzęta (People and Animals). Czytelnik, Warsaw, 1968.
  • Jan Żabinski, Relacja ... (A Report . a personal reminiscence of Dr Jan Żabinski deposited with the Jewish Historical Institute after WWII) n.d. (No. 5704), reprinted in the Biuletyn Żydowskiego Institutu Historycznego (Warsaw), No. 65-66, 1968.
  • An account of the hunt at Rominten preserve in east Prussia which describes in vivid detail Goering's hunts and the trophies he received may be seen at:
  • Letters to the author from Piotr Daszkiewicz, May to August, 2001.
  • Letters in the Tel Aviv Polish-language newspaper Czytelnik from Irena Mayzel and Regina Kenigswein written at the time of Jan and Antonina Żabinski's visit to the survivors in Israel.
  • Author's correspondence with the director of the Warsaw Zoo, Dr. Maciej Rembiszewski, 1989-1994.
    The editor of "Zwoje" (The Scrolls) would like to thank Dr. Piotr Daszkiewicz for a copy of his book as well as additional information and bibliographical data. - Andrew Kobos.


Essays by Frank Fox to be found in Zwoje (The Scrolls) :

  • Frank Fox: A World in Danger? - Świat w niebezpieczeństwie? (in English and Polish), Zwoje 1/29, 2002
  • Frank Fox: Zagrożone gatunki: Żydzi i żubry ("Endangered Species: Jews and Buffaloes"; in Polish), Zwoje 1/29, 2002
  • Frank Fox: Polskie plakaty - Bój na papierze ("Polish Posters - Combat on Paper"; in Polish),
  •  Zwoje 3/28, 2001