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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. 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 Szpilman originally published his account in Poland in 1946, but it was almost immediately withdrawn by Stalin's Polish minions as it unashamedly described collaborations by Lithuanians, Ukrainians, Poles and Jews with the Nazis.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
222 pages, Paperback
First published January 1, 1946
"Evil and brutality lurk in the human heart. If they are allowed to develop freely, they flourish, putting out dreadful offshoots...."
"Our entire nation will have to pay for all these wrongs and this unhappiness, all the crimes we have committed. Many innocent people must be sacrificed before the blood-guilt we've incurred can be wiped out. That's an inexorable law in small and large things alike."
“Tomorrow I must begin a new life. How could I do it, with nothing but death behind me? What vital energy could I draw from death?”
“One thing strikes me; Szpilman’s emotional register seems to include no desire for revenge. We once had a conversation in Warsaw; he had toured the world as a pianist and was now sitting, exhausted, at his old grand piano, which needed tuning. He made an almost childish remark, half ironically but half in deadly earnest. “When I was young man I studied in music for two years in Berlin. I just can’t make Germans out…they were so extremely musical!”
“It is hard to believe all this, and I try not to, not so much of anxiety for the future of our nation, which will have to pay for these monstrous things someday – but because I can’t believe Hitler wants such things and there are Germans who will give such order. If it so, there can only explain: they’re sick, abnormal or mad.”