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Wladyslaw Szpilman
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Wladyslaw Szpilman
Born 1911 Sosnowiec, Poland
Died 2000 Warsaw, Poland
Szpilman's Warsaw:
The History behind The Pianist
The recently released movie The Pianist is set in Holocaust–era
and tells the remarkable story of Polish–Jewish musician Wladyslaw
Szpilman. Hunger and hiding, resistance both spiritual and violent,
conscious choices and sheer luck—all of these played a role in the
unlikely survival of Szpilman and the fate of hundreds of thousands of
other Jews under Nazi control in Warsaw. Collected here are some of
the resources available on the Museum's Web site about Wladyslaw
Szpilman and the history of Warsaw during the Holocaust.

For pictures go to;
Descended from a long line of Polish Jewish musicians, Wladyslaw
Szpilman first trained as a pianist at the Chopin School of Music in
Warsaw. In 1931 he moved to Germany to further his studies at the
Academy of Arts in Berlin. After returning to Warsaw in 1933, he
earned a growing reputation as a performer and composer of both
classical and popular music. In 1935 he became house pianist for
Polish State Radio in Warsaw. Germany invaded Poland on September 1,
1939, and when enemy bombardment forced the closing of Polish State
Radio, Szpilman's performance of Chopin's C sharp minor Nocturne was
the last live music broadcast. Szpilman continued to concertize and
write new music after Warsaw's Jews were resettled in the ghetto in
October 1940. He eventually escaped the ghetto and spent the remainder
of the war hiding out, under increasingly harrowing conditions, on the
"Aryan" side of the city. Szpilman's account of his survival, Death of
a City, appeared in Polish in 1946. Retitled The Pianist, the book has
recently been published in English and several other languages
Wladyslaw Szpilman "The Pianist" Official Homepage

international herald tribune
The son of the Polish Holocaust survivor who was the subject of Roman
Polanski 's Oscar-winning film "The Pianist" hailed the awards as a
tribute to the victims of World War II. The academy "appreciated the
fate that befell my father, the total degradation of a well-known
artist under war conditions," said Andrzej Szpilman , a doctor who
lives in Europe and who attended the Academy Award ceremony in Los
Angeles. The film tells the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman , a Jewish
pianist in Warsaw. It won three Oscars: best director; best actor, and
best adapted screenplay.(Wednesday, March 26, 2003)

The Pianist is a memoir written by the Polish musician of Jewish
origins Władysław Szpilman. He tells how he survived the German
deportations of Jews to extermination camps, the 1943 destruction of
the Warsaw Ghetto, and the 1944 Warsaw Uprising during World War II

1 The story
1.1 The Ghetto
1.2 The Umschlagplatz
1.3 Death of a City
1.4 Wilm Hosenfeld
2 After the war
3 Movie
4 External links


[edit] The story
Władysław Szpilman studied the piano in the early 1930s in Warsaw and
Berlin. In Berlin, he was instructed by Leonid Kreutzer and, at the
Berlin Academy of Arts, by Artur Schnabel. During his time at the
academy he also studied composition with Franz Schreker. In 1933 he
returned to Warsaw after Adolf Hitler and his Nazi Party rose to power
in Germany.

Upon his return to Warsaw, Szpilman worked as a pianist for Polish
Radio until the German invasion of Poland in 1939. He was forced to
stop work at the station when the power station that kept Polish Radio
running was destroyed by German bombs. He played Polish Radio's last
ever pre-war live recording (a Chopin recital) the day that the
station went off the air.

Only days after Warsaw's surrender, German leaflets appeared, hung up
on the wall of buildings. These leaflets, issued by the German
commandant, promised Poles the protection and care of the German
State. There was even a special section devoted to Jews, guaranteeing
them that their rights, their property and their lives would be
absolutely secure. At first, these proclamations seemed trustworthy,
and opinion was rife that Germany's invasion may have even have been a
good thing for Poland; it would restore order to Poland's present
state of chaos. But, soon after the taking of the city, popular
feeling began to change. The first clumsily organised race raids, in
which Jews were taken from the streets into private cars and tormented
and abused, began almost immediately after peace had returned to the
city. But the occurrence that first outraged the majority of Poles was
the murder of a hundred innocent Polish citizens in December 1939.
After this, Polish opinion turned strongly against the occupying army,
especially the organisation responsible for the majority of civilian
murders, the SS.

Soon, decrees applying only to Jews began to be posted around the
city. Jews had to hand real estate and valuables over to German
officials and Jewish families were only permitted to own two thousand
złoty each. The rest had to be deposited in a bank in a blocked
account. Unsurprisingly, very few people handed their property over to
the Germans willingly as a result of this decree. Szpilman's family
(he was living with his parents, his brother Henryk and his sisters
Regina and Halina) were amongst those who did not. They hid their
money in the window frame, an expensive gold watch under their
cupboard and the watch's chain beneath the fingerboard of Szpilman's
father's violin.

By 1940, many of the roads leading into the area set aside for the
ghetto were being blocked off with walls. No reason was given for the
construction work. Also in January and February of 1940, the first
decrees appeared ordering Jewish men and women each to do two years of
labour in concentration camps. These years would serve to cure Jews of
being "parasites on the healthy organism of the Aryan peoples." [1]
But the threats of labour camps didn't come into effect until May,
when Germany took Paris. Now, having expanded the bounds of the Reich
by a significant distance, Nazis had time to spare to persecute the
Jews. Deportation, robberies, murders and forced labour were stepped
up significantly. To avoid the concentration camps, rich, intellectual
Jews like Szpilman's family and many of his acquaintances could pay to
have poorer Jews deported in their place. These payments would be made
to the Jewish Council, the Jewish organisation that the Germans had
put in charge of arranging the deportation. Most of the money went to
supporting the high cost livelihoods of those at the head of the

But, for the Jews, the worst was yet to come. In his memoir, The
Pianist, Szpilman describes a newspaper article that appeared in
October 1940:

A little while later the only Warsaw newspaper published in Polish by
the Germans provided an official comment on this subject: not only
were the Jews social parasites, they also spread infection. They were
not, said the report, to be shut up in a ghetto; even the word
"ghetto" was not to be used. The Germans were too cultured and
magnanimous a race, said the newspaper, to confine even parasites like
the Jews to ghettos, a medieval remnant unworthy of the new order in
Europe. Instead, there was to be a separate Jewish quarter of the city
where only Jews lived, where they would enjoy total freedom, and where
they could continue to practise their racial customs and culture.
Purely for hygienic reasons, this quarter was to be surrounded by a
wall so that typhus and other Jewish diseases could not spread to
other parts of the city.[1]

And so the Warsaw Ghetto was formed.

[edit] The Ghetto
Szpilman's family was lucky to already be living in the ghetto area
when the plans were announced. Other families, living outside the
boundaries, had to find new homes within the ghetto's confines. They
had been given just over a month's warning by the notices and many
families were forced to pay exorbitant amounts of money for tiny slums
in the bad areas of the ghetto.

On 15 November, 1940, the gates of the ghetto were closed. However,
this didn't stop the smuggling trade into the "Jewish Quarter."
Expensive luxury goods as well as food and drink came into the ghetto,
heaped in wagons and carts. Although these convoys were not strictly
legal, the two men in charge of the business, Kon and Heller (who were
in the service of the Gestapo and through them could run many such
ventures), paid the guards at the ghetto gate to turn a blind eye at a
prearranged time and allow the carts through. There were other, less
organised types of smuggling that occurred regularly in the ghetto.
Every afternoon (afternoon was the best time for smuggling as by then
the police guarding the wall were tired and uninterested) carts would
pass by the ghetto wall, a whistle would be heard and bags of staple
food would be thrown into the ghetto. The poor inhabitants of the
houses by the wall would scamper out of cover, grab the food and
return to their lodgings. Szpilman played piano at an expensive café
which pandered to the ghetto's upper class, made up largely of
smugglers and other war profiteers, and their wives or mistresses. On
his way to or from work, Szpilman would sometimes pass by the wall
during smuggling hours. In addition to the methods of smuggling
mentioned previously, Szpilman observed many child smugglers at work.
These smugglers were children who, of their own volition or on the
instructions of family members or employers, snuck out of the ghetto
through gutters that ran from the Aryan side of the wall to the Jewish
side. Children did the work as they were the only ones small enough to
squeeze through without becoming stuck. Once they had gotten to the
other side and received their bags of goods they would return to the
ghetto through the gutters. In his memoir, Szpilman describes one of
these forays:

One day when I was walking along beside the wall I saw a childish
smuggling operation that seemed to have reached a successful
conclusion. The Jewish child still on the far side of the wall only
needed to follow his goods back through the opening. His skinny little
figure was already partly in view when he suddenly began screaming,
and at the same time I heard the hoarse bellowing of a German on the
other side of the wall. I ran to the child to help him squeeze through
as quickly as possible, but in defiance of our efforts his hips stuck
in the drain. I pulled at his little arms with all my might, while his
screams became increasingly desperate, and I could hear the heavy
blows struck by the policeman on the other side of the wall. When I
finally managed to pull the child through, he died. His spine had been

As time went by, the area of the ghetto was slowly decreased until
there was a small ghetto, made up mostly of intelligentsia and middle
- upper class, and a large ghetto that held the rest of the Warsaw
Jews. Szpilman and his family were fortunate to live in the small
ghetto, which was less crowded and dangerous than the other. The large
ghetto was reached from the small ghetto by crossing Chłodna Street in
the Aryan part of the city. Again, the experience of those in the
bigger ghetto is best described by Szpilman:

Dozens of beggars lay in wait for this brief moment of encounter with
a prosperous citizen, mobbing him by pulling at his clothes, barring
his way, begging, weeping, shouting, threatening. But it was foolish
for anyone to feel sympathy and give a beggar something, for then the
shouting would rise to a howl. That signal would bring more and more
wretched figures streaming up from all sides, and the good Samaritan
would find himself besieged, hemmed in by ragged apparitions spraying
him with tubercular saliva, by children covered with oozing sores who
were pushed into his path, by gesticulating stumps of arms, blinded
eyes, toothless, stinking open mouths, all begging for mercy at this,
the last moment of their lives, as if their end could be delayed only
by instant support.[1]

Whenever he went into the large ghetto, Szpilman would visit a friend,
Jehuda Zyskind, who worked as a smuggler, trader, driver or carrier
when the need arose. He was also an enthusiastic Socialist. This
interest was what eventually led to his and his family's death: shot
on the spot by Military Police officers after being caught sorting out
a pile of socialist documents, illegally smuggled into the ghetto. But
before his death, in the winter of 1942, Zyskind supplied Szpilman
with the latest news from outside the ghetto, received via radio.
After hearing this news and completing whatever other business he had
in the large ghetto, Szpilman would head back to his house in the
small ghetto. On his way, Szpilman would meet up with his brother,
Henryk, who made a living by trading books in the street. He would
help Henryk to carry the books back to the family house, where they
would have lunch.

Henryk, like Władysław, was cultured and well educated. Many of his
friends advised him, at one time or another, to do as most young men
of the intelligentsia and join the Jewish police, an organisation of
Jews who worked under the SS, upholding their laws in the ghetto.
Henryk, however, refused to work with "bandits" [1]. Soon enough,
Henryk's decision was proved to have been a wise one. In May of 1942,
the Jewish Police began to carry out the task of "human-hunting" for
the Germans, mistreating Jews almost as viciously as their German
employers. Szpilman describes the Jewish Police:

You could have said, perhaps, that they caught the Gestapo spirit. As
soon as they put on their uniforms and police caps and picked up their
rubber truncheons, their natures changed. Now their ultimate ambition
was to be in close touch with the Gestapo, to be useful to Gestapo
officers, parade down the street with them, show off their knowledge
of the German language and vie with their masters in the harshness of
their dealings with the Jewish population.[1]

During the "human-hunt" conducted by the Jewish Police, Henryk was
picked up and arrested. As soon as he heard the news of his brother's
arrest, Szpilman went to the labour bureau building, determined to
secure Henryk's release. His only hope was that his popularity as a
pianist would be enough to secure Henryk's release and stop himself
from being arrested as well, for none of his papers were in order.
Still, Szpilman made his way to the building and, amongst a crowd of
prisoners being herded into captivity, managed to find the deputy
director of the labour bureau. After much effort, Szpilman managed to
extract from him a promise that Henryk would be home by that night,
which he was.

The rest of the men who had been arrested during the sweep were taken
to Treblinka, a Nazi extermination camp, to test the new gas chambers
and crematorium furnaces.

[edit] The Umschlagplatz
On 22 July, 1942, the resettlement plan was first put into action.
Buildings, randomly selected from all areas of the Ghetto were
surrounded by German officers leading troops of Jewish Police. The
inhabitants were called out, the building was searched and every
single person removed from the building, including babies and old men
and women, were loaded into wagons and taken to the Umschlagplatz, the
assembly area. From there, Jews were loaded into trains and taken
away. Notices posted around the city said that all Jews fit to work
were going to the East to work in German factories. They would each be
allowed 20 kilograms of luggage, jewellery, and provisions for two
days. Only Jewish officials from the Jewish Council or other social
institutions were exempt from resettlement.

In the hope of being allowed to stay in Warsaw if they were useful to
the German community, Jews tried to find work at German firms that
were recruiting within the ghetto. If they managed to find work, often
by paying their employer to hire them, Jews would be issued with
certificates of employment. They would pin notices bearing the name of
the place where they were working onto their clothing.

After six days searching and deal making, Szpilman managed to procure
six work certificates, enough for his entire family. At this time,
Henryk, Władysław and their father were given work sorting the stolen
possessions of Jewish families at the collection centre near the
Umschlagplatz. They and the rest of the family were allowed to move
into the barracks for Jewish workers at the centre.

But, on the 16th of August, 1942, Szpilman's luck ran out. On that day
there was a selection carried out at the collection centre and only
Henryk and Halina were passed as fit to work and allowed to stay. The
rest of the family was taken to the Umschlagplatz.

Soon after they arrived, Szpilman's family was reunited. Henryk and
Halina, working in the collection centre, had heard about the plight
of the rest of the family and volunteered of their own will to go to
the Umschlagplatz. Szpilman was horrified and angered by his siblings'
headstrong decision, and only accepted their presence after his appeal
to the guards had failed to secure their release. The family sat
together in the large open space that was the Umschlagplatz. Szpilman
describes their last moments together before the train arrived:

At one point a boy made his way through the crowd in our direction
with a box of sweets on a string round his neck. He was selling them
at ridiculous prices, although heaven knows what he thought he was
going to do with the money. Scraping together the last of our small
change, we bought a single cream caramel. Father divided it into six
parts with his penknife. That was our last meal together.[1]

That night, at around six o'clock, the transports were filled, in
preparation for leaving the Umschlagplatz. Szpilman's last moments
with his family are best described by him:

By the time we had made our way to the train the first trucks were
already full. People were standing in them pressed close to each
other. SS men were still pushing with their rifle butts, although
there were loud cries from inside and complaints about the lack of
air. And indeed the smell of chlorine made breathing difficult, even
some distance from the trucks. What went on in there if the floors had
to be so heavily chlorinated? We had gone about halfway down the train
when I suddenly heard someone shout, 'Here! Here, Szpilman!' A hand
grabbed me by the collar, and I was flung back and out of the police

Who dared do such a thing? I didn't want to be parted from my family.
I wanted to stay with them!

My view was now of the closed ranks of the policemen's backs. I threw
myself against them, but they did not give way. Peering past the
policemen's heads I could see Mother and Regina, helped by Halina and
Henryk, clambering into the trucks, while Father was looking around
for me.

"Papa!" I shouted.
He saw me and took a couple of steps my way, but then hesitated and
stopped. He was pale, and his leps trembled nervously. He tried to
smile, helplessly, painfully, raised his hand and waved goodbye, as if
I were setting out into life and he was already greeting me from
beyond the grave. Then he turned and went towards the trucks.

I flung myself at the policemen's shoulders again with all my might.

"Papa! Henryk! Halina!"
I shouted like someone possessed, terrified to think that now, at the
last vital moment, I might not get to them and we would be parted for

One of the policemen turned and looked angrily at me.

"What the hell do you think you're doing? Go on, save yourself!"

Save myself? From what? In a flash I realized what awaited the people
in the cattle trucks. My hair stood on end. I glanced behind me. I saw
the open compound, the railway lines and platforms, and beyond them
the streets. Driven by compulsive animal fear, I ran for the streets,
slipped in among a column of Council workers just leaving the place,
and got through the gate that way.[1]

[edit] Death of a City
Szpilman never saw any members of his family again. The train they
were on took them to Treblinka. None of them survived the war.

Szpilman got work to keep himself safe. His first job was as part of a
column of workers the Germans were using to demolish the walls of the
large ghetto, for now that there most of the Jews had been deported,
it was being reclaimed by the Aryan sector. Whilst doing this new
work, Szpilman was permitted to go out into the Aryan side of Warsaw.
If they could slip away from the wall, Szpilman and the other workers
visited Polish food stalls and purchased such staples as potatoes and
bread. These precious purchases could either be eaten by the buyer or
taken into the ghetto, where their value sky-rocketed. By eating some
of their food and selling or trading the rest in the ghetto, the men
working on the wall could feed themselves adequately and still raise
enough money to repeat the exercise the next day.

After his work on the wall Szpilman survived another selection in the
ghetto and was sent to work on many different tasks, such as cleaning
out the yard of the Jewish council building. Eventually, Szpilman was
posted to a steady job as "storeroom manager." In this position,
Szpilman organised the stores at the SS accommodation, which his group
was preparing. At around this time, the Germans in charge of
Szpilman's group decided to allow each man five kilograms of potatoes
and a loaf of bread every day, to make them feel more secure under the
Germans; fears of deportation had been running at especially high
levels since the last selection. To get this food, the men were
allowed to choose a representative to go into the city with a cart
everyday and buy it for all of them. To do this they chose a young man
known to Szpilman as "Majorek" (Little Major). Majorek acted not only
to collect food, but as a link between the Jewish resistance in the
ghetto and similar organisations outside. Hidden inside his bags of
food every day, Majorek would bring weapons and ammunition into the
ghetto to be passed on to the resistance by Szpilman and the other
workers. But also, Majorek was a link to Szpilman's Polish friends and
acquaintances on the outside. Through Majorek, Szpilman managed to
arrange his escape from the ghetto.

On February 13th 1943, Szpilman slipped through the ghetto gate and
met up with his friend Andrzej Bogucki on the other side. As soon as
he saw Szpilman coming, Bogucki turned away and began to walk towards
the hiding place they had arranged for him. Szpilman followed, careful
not to reveal himself as Jewish (Szpilman had prominent Jewish
features) by straying into the light of a street lamp while a German
was passing.

Szpilman only stayed in his first hiding place for a few days before
he moved on. While he was hiding in the city, Szpilman had to move
many times from flat to flat. Each time he would be provided with food
by friends involved in the Polish resistance who, with one or two
exceptions, came irregularly but as often as they were able. These
months were long and boring for Szpilman. He passed his time by
learning to cook elaborate meals silently and out of virtually
nothing, by reading and by teaching himself English. During this
entire period Szpilman lived in fear of capture by the Germans. If he
were ever discovered and unable to escape, Szpilman planned to commit
suicide so that he would be unable to compromise any of his helpers
under questioning. During the months that Szpilman spent in hiding, he
came extremely close to suicide on several occasions, but never had to
carry out his plans.

Szpilman continued to live in his various hiding places until August
1944. In August the Warsaw uprising began, only weeks after the first
Soviet shells had fallen on the city. As a result of this Soviet
attack the German authorities had begun tentatively to evacuate the
civilian population of the city, but there was still a strong military
presence within Warsaw and this was what the Warsaw rebellion was
aimed at.

From the window of the flat in which he was hiding, Szpilman had a
good vantage point from which to watch the beginnings of the
rebellion. Hiding in a predominantly German area, however, Szpilman
was not in a good position to go out and join the fighting: first he
would need to get past several units of German soldiers who were
holding the area against the main power of the rebellion, which was
based in the city centre. So Szpilman stayed in his building. However,
on August 12th 1944, the German search for the culprits behind the
rebellion reached Szpilman's building. It was surrounded by Ukrainian
Fascists and the inhabitants were ordered to evacuate before the
building was destroyed. A tank fired a couple of shots into the
building and then it was set alight. Szpilman, hiding in his flat on
the fourth floor, could only hope that the flats on the first floor
were the only ones that were burning and that he would be able to
escape the flames by staying high. Within hours, however, his room
began to fill with smoke and he began to experience the beginnings
carbon-monoxide poisoning. Now, Szpilman was resigned to dying. To
quicken his passing, Szpilman decided to commit suicide. To do this,
he planned on swallowing first sleeping pills and then a bottle of
opium to finish himself off. But he didn't manage to see his plans
through to completion. As soon as he took the sleeping pills, which
acted almost instantly on his empty stomach, Szpilman fell asleep.

When he woke up, the fire was no longer burning as powerfully. All of
the floors below Szpilman's were to different degrees burnt out, and
Szpilman left the building to escape the poisonous smoke that filled
all the rooms. He stopped and sat down just outside the building,
leaning against a wall to conceal himself from the Germans on the road
on the other side. He remained hidden behind the wall, recovering from
the poison, until dark. Then he struck out across the road to an
unfinished hospital building that had been evacuated already. He
crossed the road on hand and knee, lying flat and pretending to be a
corpse (of which there were many on the road) whenever a German unit
came into sight on their way to or from fighting in the city centre.
When he eventually reached the hospital, Szpilman collapsed onto the
floor in the first available area and fell asleep.

The next day, Szpilman explored the hospital thoroughly. To his dismay
he found that it was full of items that the Germans would be intending
to take away with them, meaning he would have to be careful travelling
around the building in case a group should come in to loot. To avoid
the patrols that occasionally swept the building, Szpilman hid in a
lumber room, tucked in a remote corner of the hospital. Food and drink
were scarce in the hospital, and for the first four or five days of
his stay in the building, Szpilman couldn't find anything. When,
again, he went searching for food and drink, Szpilman managed to find
some crusts of bread to eat and a fire bucket full of water. Even
though the stinking water was covered in an iridescent film, Szpilman
drank deeply, although he stopped after inadvertently swallowing a
considerable amount of dead insects.

On 30th of August, Szpilman moved back into his old building, which by
this time had entirely burnt out. Here, in larders and bathtubs
(which, due to the ravages of the fire, were now open to the air)
Szpilman found bread and rainwater, which kept him alive. During his
time in this building the Warsaw uprising was defeated and the
evacuation of the civilian population was completed. By October 14th
Szpilman and the German army were all but the only humans still living
in the burnt out wreck of Warsaw.

As November set in, so did winter. Living in the attic of the block of
flats, with very little protection from the cold and the snow,
Szpilman began to get extremely cold. As a result of the cold and the
squalor, he eventually developed an insatiable craving for hot
porridge. So, at great risk, Szpilman came down from the attic to find
a working oven in one of the flats. He was still trying to get the
stove lit when he was discovered by a German soldier. Szpilman
describes the encounter:

He was as alarmed as I was by this lonely encounter in the ruins, but
he tried to seem threatening. He asked, in broken Polish, what I was
doing here. I said I was living outside Warsaw now and had come back
to fetch some of my things. In view of my appearance, this was a
ridiculous explanation. The German pointed his gun at me and told me
to follow him. I said I would, but my death would be on his
conscience, and if he let me stay here I would give him half a litre
of spirits. He expressed himself agreeable to this form of ransom, but
made it very clear that he would be back, and then I would have to
give him more strong liquor. As soon as I was alone I climbed quickly
to the attic, pulled up the ladder and closed the trapdoor. Sure
enough, he was back after quarter of an hour, but accompanied by
several other soldiers and a non-commissioned officer. At the sound of
their footsteps and voices I clambered up from the attic floor to the
top ot the intact piece of roof, which had a steep slope. I lay flat
on my stomach with my feet braced against the gutter. If it had
buckled or given way, I would have slipped to the roofing sheet and
then fallen five floors to the street below. But the gutter held, and
this new and indeed desperate idea for a hiding place meant that my
life was saved once again. The Germans searched the whole building,
piling up tables and chairs, and finally came up to my attic, but it
did not occur to them to look on the roof. It must have seemed
impossible for anyone to be lying there. They left empty-handed,
cursing and calling me a number of names.[1]

From then on, Szpilman decided to stay hidden on the roof every day,
only coming down at dusk to search for food. He planned to go to this
extra measure only until the troop of Germans who knew of his hiding
place had left the area. However, he was soon forced to change his
plans drastically.

Lying on the roof one day Szpilman suddenly heard a burst of firing
near him. Turning, he saw that it was he that the bullets were aimed
at. Two Germans, standing on the roof of the hospital, had discovered
his latest hiding spot and had begun to shoot at him. Szpilman
slithered, as fast as he could, off the roof and down through the
trapdoor into the stairway. Then, as his last hiding place in the
building had now been discovered, he hurried out of the building and
into the expanse of burnt out buildings.

[edit] Wilm Hosenfeld
Szpilman headed quickly away from his old building and soon found
another, similar building that he could live in. It was the only
multi-storey building in the area and, as was now his custom, Szpilman
made his way up to the attic.

Some days later, Szpilman searched the building for food. This time
his aim was to collect as much food as possible and take it all up to
his attic so he wouldn't have to come down so often and expose himself
to danger. He found a kitchen and was raiding it intently when
suddenly he was surprised by the voice of a German officer behind him.

The officer asked him what he was doing. Szpilman said nothing, but
sat down in despair by the larder door. The officer asked him his
occupation and Szpilman answered that he was a pianist. On hearing
this, the officer led him to a piano in the next room and instructed
him to play. Szpilman describes the scene:

I played Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor. The glassy, tinkling
sound of the untuned strings rang through the empty flat and the
stairway, floated through the ruins of the villa on the other side of
the street and returned as a muted, melanchony echo. When I had
finished, the silence seemed even gloomier and even more eerie than
before. A cat mewed in a street somewhere. I heard a shot down below
outside the building—a harsh, loud German noise.

The officer looked at me in silence. After a while he sighed, and
muttered, "All the same, you shouldn't stay here. I'll take you out of
the city, to a village. You'll be safer there."

I shook my head. "I can't leave this place," I said firmly.

Only now did he seem to understand my real reason for hiding among the
ruins. He started nervously.

"You're Jewish?" he asked


He had been standing with his arms crossed over his chest; he now
unfolded them and sat down in the armchair by the piano, as if this
discovery called for lengthy reflection.

"Yes, well," he murmured, "in that case I see you really can't leave."

The officer went with Szpilman to take a look at his hiding place.
Inspecting the attic thoroughly, he found a loft above the attic that
Szpilman hadn't noticed as it was in a gloomy area of the roof. He
helped Szpilman find a ladder amongst the apartments and helped him
climb up into the loft. From then until his unit retreated from
Warsaw, the German officer supplied Szpilman with food, water and
encouraging news of the Soviet advance.

The officer's unit left during the first half of December, 1944. The
officer left Szpilman with food and drink and with a German Army great
coat, so he would be warm while he foraged for food until the Soviets

The Soviets finally arrived on 15th January 1945. When the city was
liberated, troops began to come in with civilians following after
them, alone or in small groups. Szpilman, wishing to be friendly, came
out of his hiding place and greeted one of these civilians, a woman
carrying a bundle on her back. But, before he had finished speaking,
the woman dropped her bundle, turned and fled, shouting that Szpilman
was "A German!" Szpilman ran back inside his building.

Looking out the window minutes later, Szpilman saw that his building
had been surrounded by troops and that they were already making their
way in via the cellars. So Szpilman came slowly down the stairs,
shouting "Don't shoot! I'm Polish!" A young Polish officer came up the
stairs towards him, pointing his pistol and telling him to put his
hands up. Again Szpilman said that he was Polish. The officer came and
inspected him closer. He eventually agreed that Szpilman was Polish
and lowered the pistol.

After the war was over, Szpilman was visited by a violinist friend
named Zygmunt Lednicki. Lednicki told Szpilman of a German officer he
had met at a Soviet Prisoner of War camp on his way back from his
wanderings after the defeat of the Warsaw Rebellion. The officer,
learning that he was a musician, had asked him if he knew Władysław
Szpilman. Lednicki had said that he did, but before the German could
tell him his name, the guards at the camp had asked Lednicki to move
on and sat the German back down again with his fellows.

When Szpilman and Lendicki returned to the place where the POW camp
had been, it was no longer there. Although after this disappointment
Szpilman did everything in his power to find the officer, it took him
five years even to discover his name, Wilm Hosenfeld. From there
Szpilman went to the government in an attempt to locate Hosenfeld and
secure his release. But Hosenfeld and his unit, which was suspected of
spying, had been moved to a POW camp at a secret location somewhere in
Soviet Russia, and there was nothing that the Polish government could
do. Hosenfeld died in captivity in 1952.

After the war
After the war Szpilman resumed his musical career at Radio Poland in
Warsaw. His first piece at the newly reconstructed recording room of
Radio Warsaw was the same as the last piece he had played six years
before. He went on to become the head of Polish Radio's music
department until 1963, when he retired the position to devote more of
his time to composing and to touring as a concert pianist. In 1986, he
retired from the latter and became a full time composer.

In 1945, shortly after the war's end, Szpilman wrote a memoir about
his survival in Warsaw. He published the book, Śmierć Miasta (Death
a City) in Poland, but it was suppressed by the country's Communist
authorities, who disagreed with its perspective on the war. The
largest problems for the authorities were the grey areas that Szpilman
described: not all Germans were bad and, worst of all, not all of the
oppressed were good; Szpilman recounts stories of many Lithuanians,
Ukrainians, Russians, Poles, and even Jews who worked with the Nazis
to kill members of their own ethnic groups. For this reason, few
copies of Śmierć Miasta were printed.

Szpilman's memoir was not reprinted for fifty years, when in 1998 it
was published by Szpilman's son Andrzej, first in German as Das
wunderbare Ãœberleben (The Fantastic Survival) and then in English as
The Pianist. This bestselling book was later published in 30 other
languages, named "Los Angeles Times Best Nonfiction Book of 1999".

Main article: The Pianist (film)

A 2002 film version was adapted by Ronald Harwood and stars Adrien
Brody, Emilia Fox, Thomas Kretschmann and Michał Żebrowski. The story
was filmed by Roman Polański in 2001. Polański was awarded the Palme
d'Or (Golden Palm) award of the Cannes film festival on May 26, 2002.
The film eventually premiered in Cannes on May, 2002. The Pianist was
nominated for several Academy Awards, including Best Picture. Brody
won the Oscar for Best Actor and Polański the one for Best Director.
It has also received the César Award for Best Film in 2003.

Tagline: Music was his passion. Survival was his masterpiece.

[edit] External links
Official website http://www.thepianistmovie.com/
The Pianist at the Internet Movie Database
Wladyslaw Szpilman at the Internet Movie Database
Władysław Szpilman information and biography
Retrieved from "http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Pianist_%28memoir%29"