The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Mans Survival in Warsaw, 1939–45 by Władysław SzpilmanThe last live broadcast on Polish Radio, on September 23, 1939, was Chopins Nocturne in C# Minor, played by a young pianist named Wladyslaw Szpilman, until his playing was interrupted by German shelling. It was the same piece and the same pianist, when broadcasting was resumed six years later. The Pianist is Szpilmans account of the years inbetween, of the death and cruelty inflicted on the Jews of Warsaw and on Warsaw itself, related with a dispassionate restraint borne of shock. Szpilman, now 88, has not looked at his description since he wrote it in 1946 (the same time as Primo Levis If This Is A Man?; it is too personally painful. The rest of us have no such excuse.
Szpilmans family were deported to Treblinka, where they were exterminated; he survived only because a music-loving policeman recognised him. This was only the first in a series of fatefully lucky escapes that littered his life as he hid among the rubble and corpses of the Warsaw Ghetto, growing thinner and hungrier, yet condemned to live. Ironically it was a German officer, Wilm Hosenfeld, who saved Szpilmans life by bringing food and an eiderdown to the derelict ruin where he discovered him. Hosenfeld died seven years later in a Stalingrad labour camp, but portions of his diary, reprinted here, tell of his outraged incomprehension of the madness and evil he witnessed, thereby establishing an effective counterpoint to ground the nightmarish vision of the pianist in a desperate reality. Szpilman originally published his account in Poland in 1946, but it was almost immediately withdrawn by Stalins Polish minions as it unashamedly described collaborations by Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles and Jews with the Nazis. In 1997 it was published in Germany after Szpilmans son found it on his fathers bookcase. This admirably robust translation by Anthea Bell is the first in the English language. There were 3,500,000 Jews in Poland before the Nazi occupation; after it there were 240,000. Wladyslaw Szpilmans extraordinary account of his own miraculous survival offers a voice across the years for the faceless millions who lost their lives. --David Vincent
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Szpilman's family were deported to Treblinka, where they were exterminated; he survived only because a music-loving policeman recognised him.
you re your own worst critic
With an OverDrive account, you can save your favorite libraries for at-a-glance information about availability. Find out more about OverDrive accounts. On September 23, , 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.