In 2002 "The Pianist", directed by Roman Polanski shook up the world. The threefold Oskar prize winning film tells the story of Wladyslaw Szpilman, one of the most famous polish pianists of his time and how he survived WW2.
Immediately after the war Wladyslaw wrote a book describing his experiences during those years and published it in 1946, but it was soon removed from the shelves in communist Poland.
When the war was over Szpilman went back to working as a classical pianist at the Polish Radio in Warsaw and performing as a soloist and chamber musician. He also resumed his flourishing career as a composer of classical music and film music, as well as composing chansons and pop songs that became widely known in Poland.
Wladyslaw's son Andrzej grew up in total ignorance of his father's past. He had no idea about his Jewish background and what his father went through during the war. He knew nothing about his father living in the Warsaw ghetto and the years he spent in hiding. When he was 12, Andrzej discovered the book his father wrote and read it secretly.
"The Pianist " is a book about the terrible time of the second world war, but it is also a book about the power of music. Music saved the life of Wladyslaw Szpilman in many ways. As a pianist he could earn enough money for his family to live off in the Warsaw Ghetto. His Polish friends from the music broadcasts on the radio endangered their lives repeatedly while helping him throughout the war. The culmination of the movie and the book is in Szpilman's rescue by the German Wehrmacht officer Wilm Hosefeld after playing a Chopin nocturne to him. He was tremendously lucky it was Hosenfeld who found him. Hosenfeld was a humanist and a believing Catholic that had already saved many people when he came across Szpilman towards the end of the war. Hosenfeld chose to risk his own life to save Szpilman's.
But music rescued Szpilman's life in a less direct manner too. He carried music in him all the time. The Concertino for piano and orchestra he composed in 1940 is amazingly bubbling with life and energy. When he spent two years in hiding, obviously without being able to play a single note, he would replay music pieces in his mind and rehearse them mentally. Music kept him going, gave him something that could carry his consciousness away from the terrible present into a realm of beauty no one could take away from him. Even with no food, clothing or safety, his life was enriched by this powerful force that prevented him from sinking into complete desperation.
In 1998 Andrej Szpilman edited and republished his father's book in Germany. It was soon translated into English and became an international bestseller. Roman Polanski received Wladyslaw Szpilman's permission to film it, but Wladyslaw didn't live long enough to see the movie; he passed away at the age of 88 in 2000.
Andrzej Szpilman has kindly agreed to an interview with Pianoways were he will speak about his father and their relationship. The interview will be published in the next Pianoways blog post.
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