I have strived to create an authentic account of life in Warsaw at the time. Most of the events in the book actually happened: the bombardment of Warsaw that ignited World War II, the creation of the Jewish Ghetto, the rescue operation at the zoo, the establishment of a pig farm and even the 1939 football match between Poland and Hungary. Most of the characters are real, including: Jan and Antonina Zabinski, Simon and Lonia Tenenbaum, Lutz Heck, Janusz Korczak and Ziegler, the German soldier. I have tried to depict them as accurately as possible, but inevitably they do and say some things in this book that they didn’t in real life.
It is estimated that the Zabinskis sheltered about 300 Jews in the basement of their villa and the empty cages of their zoo. The operation was code-named “The House under a Crazy Star”– which was the inspiration for the idea of inventing the Star of David on the outside wall of the villa (the image of a battered bullet-peppered metal star reflecting the sunlight ever stronger has been with me from the moment I first read that phrase). Although the characters of Marcus and Stefan are also my own creation, they symbolise the many real examples of friendship that spanned the Jewish and non-Jewish communities of Warsaw..
It is true that at the time, the vast majority of people didn’t endanger themselves like the Zabinskis by acting to save Jewish lives, but it has always been the case that dictators can only succeed when the silent majority are too afraid to protest. Before we pass judgement on those that looked the other way we need to consider what we would have done in such circumstances. I have asked myself this question may times and I honestly doubt that I would have had Jan and Antonina’s courage. They, alongside over 6000 other fellow Poles, have been honoured by Yad Vashem (the Holocaust Martyrs' and Heroes' Remembrance Authority in Jerusalem) as “Righteous Among the Nations” – and it is certain that many more anonymous heroes performed deeds that history has never recorded. This book has been written in their honour as well.