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The Pianist: The Extraordinary Story of One Man's Survival in Warsaw, 1939-45 Paperback – 1 Mar 2000
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The last live broadcast on Polish Radio, on September 23, 1939, was Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp 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 resumed six years later. The Pianist is Szpilman's account of the years in between, 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 Levi's If This Is A Man?; it is too personally painful. The rest of us have no such excuse. Szpilman's 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 Szpilman's 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 Szpilman originally published his account in Poland in 1946, but it was almost immediately withdrawn by Stalin's Polish minions as it unashamedly described collaborations by Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles and Jews with the Nazis. In 1997 it was published in Germany after Szpilman's son found it on his father's 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 Szpilman's extraordinary account of his own miraculous survival offers a voice across the years for the faceless millions who lost their lives. --David Vincent
Vivid and anguished . . . compulsive reading (Richard Overy Sunday Telegraph)
You can learn more about human nature from this brief account of the survival of one man throughout the war years in the devastated city of Warsaw than from several volumes of the average encyclopaedia (Gerald Jacobs Independent on Sunday)
We are drawn in to share his surprise and then disbelief at the horrifying progress of events, all conveyed with an understated intimacy and dailiness that render them painfully close . . . riveting (Lisa Appignanesi Observer)
This memoir of a Jewish pianist who survived the war in Warsaw is one of the most powerful accounts ever written (Sunday Tribune)
A compelling, harrowing masterpiece (Independent)
A book so fresh and vivid, so heartbreaking, and so simply and beautifully written, that it manages to tell us the story of horrendous events as if for the first time . . . His account is hair-raising, beyond anything Hollywood could invent . . . Everything that has been most horrific in life in 20th-century Europe is encompassed in this exquisite memoir (Daily Telegraph)
What really stays with the reader is the chilling, almost naive immediacy with which the story is told . . . The Pianist is an icy, nerveless but remarkably readable memoir that takes us as close as we are ever likely to travel to the day-to-day reality of living through terror (Sunday Times)
Top customer reviews
I enjoyed 'The Pianist' from start to finish, it's such a thought provoking story, a story of courage and what you will do to survive. The author's style of writing is surreal, he tells you what happened but there is no feeling, which you understand, he wrote his story a few years after the war, the shock of everything that had happened remained, which made the story more heartbreaking.
A memorable book, I enjoyed reading about what happened next for the author and the story of his saviour.
Szpilman describes in depth the formation of the Jewish Ghetto, the Ghetto uprising, the Warsaw uprising, the `relocation' of his family to the gas chambers, the beatings, shootings and the random murder of so many of his race. A story of pure savagery that even after so many books, films and documentaries still shocks the reader to the core.
The main theme of this book however concerns the miraculous survival of the author. He is picked out from the `relocation' queue by an old friend who is now a Jewish Ghetto policeman and then embarks on a hide and seek escapade through various safe houses in Warsaw. Living with an instant death sentence if discovered, Szpilman is hidden at these various locations for weeks at a time, always alone and often without food. Eventually in the courageous Warsaw uprising the author is forced to take refuge in an abandoned building which catches fire, he is then discovered by the Germans and shot at but escapes. In what is a virtually a now abandoned Warsaw he takes refuge in other abandoned buildings and is eventually caught in one foraging for food by a German Captain namely Wilm Hosenfeld. Expecting the worse Szpilman finds the opposite and his life is saved by this kind and honourable German officer. Hosenfeld befriends Szpilman, hides him, feeds him and provides him warm clothing. Hosenfeld then disappears from the story when the Russians enter Warsaw and the Germans retreat. However the story has a twist as Hosenfeld gets taken prisoner by the Russians and in the post war period Szpilman finds this out and tries to find Hosenfeld to barter for his release. Alas this humanitarian Captain dies in a Russian prison camp in the early 1950's.
A sad but miraculous story, sometime told in quite a banal matter of fact matter with not much emotion....but it is said in the book that the author wrote the book immediately after the war ended...after so much horror I doubt if the author had any emotion left!
It is always incredibly humbling to read accounts of the atrocities during the war and the Pianist is no exception. I feel torn when writing about this book as it is hard to write positively about such a awful period of time, but the narrative is heart breakingly effective and although one experiences great relief when the war is over, the plight of millions of Jews less fortunate than our Pianist is brought back into the picture by the moving excerpts from the diary of Wilm Hosenfeld.
It is a must-read in order to fully understand what went on and to appreciate what so many gave.
This is simply because it is not a recollection of concentration camp life, but that of a young man who managed to escape the net constantly threatening to close in around him.
The tale is told from a somewhat detached point of view, which indeed makes it all the more compelling in my mind. The matter-of-fact manner in which the author embraces his horrific experiences, brings his shattering ordeal home to the reader in horrifyingly blunt detail.
This is the type of subject that should never be ignored or brushed over; the heroism of the people who lived through the Nazi regime should always be addressed as a statement to mankind; and 'The Pianist' in its own way, indeed makes such a statement.
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