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The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945

The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man's Survival in
Warsaw, 1939-1945 by Wladyslaw Szpilman, translated by Anthea Bell
from Pilish
Hardcover (September 1999) Picador. Szpilman was a noted pianist on
Polish Radio prior to the German invasion of Poland in the Fall of
1939. He was incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto. In 1945, he published
this memoir, but it was banned by the Communists. Now, at age 88, his
chronicle has been published in English. Szpilman's work is not only a
history, but it has been called a literary masterpiece for its
understated but descriptive use of language. Included in the book is
his story of how a German captain saved his life, how the Ghetto Jews
adjusted to the new restrictions each day, and why his family, knowing
full well that 90% would be killed in the death camps, followed the
round-up orders for deportation.
Editorial Reviews

Written immediately after the end of World War II, this morally
complex Holocaust memoir is notable for its exact depiction of the
grim details of life in Warsaw under the Nazi occupation. "Things you
hardly noticed before took on enormous significance: a comfortable,
solid armchair, the soothing look of a white-tiled stove," writes
Wladyslaw Szpilman, a pianist for Polish radio when the Germans
invaded. His mother's insistence on laying the table with clean linen
for their midday meal, even as conditions for Jews worsened daily,
makes palpable the Holocaust's abstract horror. Arbitrarily removed
from the transport that took his family to certain death, Szpilman
does not deny the "animal fear" that led him to seize this chance for
escape, nor does he cheapen his emotions by belaboring them. Yet his
cool prose contains plenty of biting rage, mostly buried in scathing
asides (a Jewish doctor spared consignment to "the most wonderful of
all gas chambers," for example). Szpilman found compassion in unlikely
people, including a German officer who brought food and warm clothing
to his hiding place during the war's last days. Extracts from the
officer's wartime diary (added to this new edition), with their
expressions of outrage at his fellow soldiers' behavior, remind us to
be wary of general condemnation of any group. --Wendy Smith

From Publishers Weekly
Originally published in Poland in 1945 but then suppressed by the
Communist authorities, this memoir of survival in the Warsaw Ghetto
joins the ranks of Holocaust memoirs notable as much for their
literary value as for their historical significance. Szpilman, a
Jewish classical pianist, played the last live music broadcast from
Warsaw before Polish Radio went off the air in September 1939 because
of the German invasion. In a tone that is at once dispassionate and
immediate, Szpilman relates the horrors of life inside the ghetto. But
his book is distinguished by the dazzling clarity he brings to the
banalities of ghetto life, especially the eerie normalcy of some
social relations amid catastrophic upheaval. He shows how Jewish
residents of the Polish capital adjusted to life under the occupation:
"The armbands branding us as Jews did not bother us, because we were
all wearing them, and after some time living in the ghetto I realized
that I had become thoroughly used to them." Using a reporter's powers
of description, Szpilman, who is still alive at the age of 88, records
the chilling conversations that took place as Jews waited to be
transported to their deaths. "We're not heroes!" he recalls his father
saying. "We're perfectly ordinary people, which is why we prefer to
risk hoping for that 10 per cent chance of living." In a twist that
exemplifies how this book will make readers look again at a history
they thought they knew, he details how a German captain saved his
life. Employing language that has more in common with the
understatement of Primo Levi than with the moral urgency of Elie
Wiesel, Szpilman is a remarkably lucid observer and chronicler of how,
while his family perished, he survived thanks to a combination of
resourcefulness and chance
From Library Journal
Szpilman's memoir of life in the Warsaw ghetto is remarkable not only
for the heroism of its protagonists but for the author's lack of
bitterness, even optimism, in recounting the events. Written and
published in a short run in Poland soon after the war, this first
translation maintains a freshness of experience lacking in many later,
more ruminative Holocaust memoirs.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Kirkus Reviews
A striking Holocaust memoir that conveys with exceptional immediacy
and cool reportage the author's desperate fight for survival and the
German who came to his aid. When WWII broke out, Szpilman was a
talented young Jewish pianist in Warsaw. Within a few years, he would
be forced with his family into the Warsaw ghetto, where he supported
them by playing in ghetto cafs. Szpilman's memoir, suppressed by the
Polish government shortly after its original publication in 1946,
tells the story of the young mans difficult survival in wartime Warsaw
and the deportation and death of his entire family. With marked
clarity and detachment, Szpilman takes us through the changing moods
among the doomed population, moods determined by the merest whim or
close calculations of the Germans. This is also a book about the power
of music, which provides Szpilman the determination to go on and
literally saves him several times. Several things distinguish this
among Holocaust memoirs. Written immediately after the war, The
Pianist is distant and cool in its emotional tone; we sense that the
author has not yet processed his emotions. Yet the immediacy of his
experiences is found on every page in the details of daily life in the
ghetto and his months of hiding. This account also contains extracts
from the diary of the German officer who saved Szpilman's life.
Captain Wilm Hosenfeld's extraordinary reflections on the war and the
epilogue by German writer Wolf Bierman describing the many times that
Hosenfeld came to the aid of Jews and Poles are fitting companions to
Szpilman's memoir. They allow the reader to contemplate more
personally the author's marked lack of desire for revenge. After the
war, Szpilman returned to his career playing for Polish Radio and in
concert halls. What interested Szpilman (who still lives in Warsaw),
and what comes through here, is not a desire for revenge, but the
brute animal drive for survival. -- Copyright (c)1999, Kirkus
Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

Dade Jewish Journal
"He tells his remarkable epic with great clarity and sensitivity."


"Proof that real life is much more exciting than anything film moguls
could invent." --Anne Appelbaum, Literary Review (England)


"Proof that real life is much more exciting than anything film moguls
could invent." --Anne Appelbaum, Literary Review (England)

Book Description

Named one of the Best Books of 1999 by the Los Angeles Times, The
Pianist is now a major motion picture directed by Roman Polanski and
starring Adrien Brody (Son of Sam). The Pianist won the Cannes Film
Festival's most prestigious prize—the Palme d'Or.

On September 23, 1939, Wladyslaw Szpilman played Chopin's Nocturne in
C-sharp minor live on the radio as shells exploded outside—so loudly
that he couldn't hear his piano. It was the last live music broadcast
from Warsaw: That day, a German bomb hit the station, and Polish Radio
went off the air.

Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the
end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the
same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble. Written
immediately after the war and suppressed for decades, The Pianist is a
stunning testament to human endurance and the redemptive power of
fellow feeling.


From the Publisher
"[Szpilman's] account is hair-raising beyond anything Hollywood could
invent...an altogether unforgettable book." -- THE DAILY TELEGRAPH
"[Szpilman's] shock and ensuing numbness become ours, so that acts of
ordinary kindness or humanity take on an aura of miracle. --THE

"Rarely has the sheer claustrophobia of living in the Warsaw Ghetto
been so vividly conveyed as it is by Szpilman." --THE INDEPENDENT

About the Author

Wladyslaw Szpilman was born in 1911. He studied the piano at the
Warsaw Conservatory and at the Academy of Arts in Berlin. From 1945 to
1963, he was Director of Music at Polish Radio, and he also pursued a
career as a concert pianist and composer for many years. He lives in


Excerpted from Pianist by Wladyslaw Szpilman. Copyright (c) 1999.
Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved
On that final day at the radio station, I was giving a Chopin recital.
It was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw. Shells were
exploding close to the broadcasting centre all the time I played, and
the buildings were burning very close to us. I could scarcely hear the
sound of my own piano through the noise. After the recital I had to
wait two hours before the shelling died down enough for me to get
home. My parents, brother and sisters had thought I must be dead, and
welcomed me like a man risen from the grave....
When darkness fell that evening, I put my head out of the window. The
street was empty, and there was no sound but the echo of bursting
shells. Heavy blood-red masses of smoke loomed above the buildings.
Outside the door of our building lay the corpse of a woman with her
head and one arm blown off. A bucket lay tipped over beside her; she
had been fetching water from the well. Her blood flowed into the
gutter in a long, dark stream, and then ran on into a drain covered by
a grating. --From The Pianist