German zoo gets $26 million from widow of animal-loving Holocaust survivor

World News

(JTA) — The zoo in Cologne, Germany, has gotten its first check from the $26 million gift promised by the widow of a Holocaust survivor who credited the city’s residents for saving him during the war.

Elizabeth Reichert willed the funds to the Cologne Zoological Garden in 2017 in honor of her husband Arnulf, who died in 1998. Both Reicherts were born in Cologne and met during World War II, when Elizabeth was part of the local anti-Nazi resistance network and Arnulf, a German Jew, was in hiding with the network’s help.

“They only survived the war in Germany thanks to the help of courageous people from Cologne, who offered hiding places to the Jew Arnulf Reichert,” the zoo said in a statement in German this week.

Though they moved to Israel and, after five years, America after the war, Arnulf and Elizabeth maintained affection to the city for the rest of their lives.

“We were born in Cologne and we remember forever Cologne,” Reichert said in 2017.

In the United States, they settled in New Jersey, where the couple started and ran a successful pet wholesale business. They never had children. Reichert chose the zoo out of all institutions in Cologne because of her and Arnulf’s love of animals.

“Arnulf wanted to give the money someplace where it would do good,” Elizabeth Reichert said in 2017 when she announced the planned gift. “When you think about leaving money, memories play a major role.”

Reichert died in February 2021, at the age of 96, and it was not until recently that her estate was settled and funds could be disbursed. The zoo reported that it had received the first payment from the trust, of more than $700,000 dollars, and said it expected annual disbursals to top $1 million in the future. The gift, a zoo official said in 2017, was unusual in Germany where large philanthropic gifts are rare and would be used to improve the zoo for animals and visitors alike.

The zoo said it is planning to name its South American section after Arnulf Reichert.

Athletes run past sea lions at the Cologne zoo during the Zoolauf, where children and adults can run past animals, June 24, 2022. (Roberto Pfeil/picture alliance via Getty Images)

Reichert had been giving a monthly donation of over $7,000 since announcing the gift. But her giving to the zoo goes all the way back to 1954, when she and Arnulf donated a soft-shelled turtle they brought from the Jordan River to Germany by boat on a nine-day journey, feeding it cold cuts of meat along the way.

Cologne’s zoo is not the first in Europe to be associated with Holocaust survivors.  Zookeepers in Warsaw sheltered 300 Jews from the Nazis inside the zoo, in a dramatic story that was the subject of a novel and then a 2017 movie adaptation starring Jessica Chastain.