During the Holocaust, Jan and Antonina Żabiński Preserved Szymon Tenenbaum's Insect Collection. View that collection online!

Mateusz Szczepaniak, 29th June 2016
The collection of Szymon Tenenbaum, an outstanding entomologist, researcher and collector of insects, now can be viewed on-line. The story of this extremely valuable collection of beetles, kept safe during the Holocaust by Jan and Antonina Żabiński, is told through our virtual exhibition The House Under a Wacky Star - Jews in Hiding at the Warsaw Zoo.

Born in 1892, Szymon Tenenbaum began collecting insects from childhood. He received his first specimens from his father, who had collected these souvenirs of nature from around the world. He later enlarged the collection, not only during trips to the Balearic Islands, Brazil, Mexico and Palestine, but also from around Warsaw, the Białowieża Forest, the Podole region and the Penine mountains. During his research work over twenty five years, he published many scientific papers in the field of entomology. His research was interrupted only by World War II.

In November 1940, Tenenbaum, together with his family, ended up in the Warsaw ghetto. He had earlier entrusted his life's work to the Director of the Warsaw Zoo Jan Żabiński and his wife Antonina, with whom he had previously worked professionally.

As Antonina Żabińska recalled, "He was fanatically in love with his entomology. Gifted with outstanding intelligence and charm, in the changed circumstances, he behaved like a defenceless, helpless child."

Despite the efforts of his friends to get Tenenbaum out into the "Aryan side", the researcher remained in the ghetto until his death in 1941. The Żabiński couple stored his collection until the end of the War.

During a 1947 radio program, Jan Żabiński said, "On the sixth anniversary of the death of her husband, Eleonora Tenenbaum-Krajewska offered Dr Szymon Tenenbaum's huge and very valuable collection of insects to a museum. That collection comprised over half a million specimens, arranged within four hundred glass cabinets. This was the result of Tenebaum's fervant and painstaking life's work.".

The collection came to Warsaw's Zoological Museum – today, known as the Zoological Museum and Institute of the Polish Academy of Science. The oldest insects in the collection come from Vilna in 1840, while the most recent were caught near the Tenebaums' apartment in Warsaw on 29th September 1940.

The collection recently became accessible on the Internet. As part of this digitisation project, a complete inventory was undertaken for the first time. Around 150,000 specimens have thus far been photographically documented and entered into a database.Information derived from Tenebaum's own labelling has been supplemented with contemporary taxonomical names and geographic positions. Work on this project continues.

Click HERE to view this amazing collection.