Władysław Szpilman

more than a year ago
Born in Sosnowiec, Upper Silesia, in 1911, Wladyslaw Szpilman studied the piano in Berlin before embarking on a successful career as a composer and concert pianist for Polish National Radio. By the time German bombs fell on Warsaw, he had achieved the status of a musical celebrity. Imprisoned inside what was to become the largest ghetto in Europe when the Nazis occupied Warsaw, Szpilman continued to scrape out a living as a musician in ghetto cafés before he and his family were rounded up during a ‘selection’ in August 1942. Szpilman managed to escape the transportations to Treblinka death camp when he was hauled out of a cattle truck by a policeman who recognized him as the famous pianist; the rest of his family was not so lucky. Szpilman slaved away in a labour camp before escaping and hiding in various locations around Warsaw. The dying days of the war saw him living in increasing despair, weakened by starvation and ill health, and he was only saved from certain death when a Nazi officer discovered him scavenging in the ruins and fed and watered him. In a surreal twist of irony, Szpilman resumed his career as a successful composer after the war - even founding the Sopot Song Festival in 1961, while his German guardian angel died in the captivity of a Soviet labour camp. Szpilman’s book, originally titled ‘Death of a City,’ was published shortly after the war but censored by the communists and was soon forgotten. It was only when his son, Andrzej, discovered his father’s dusty manuscripts that the book was re-published in 1998. In 2002, Roman Polański brought it to the screen as The Pianist, which won three Oscars and was nominated for four others, including Best Picture. Szpilman passed away in Warsaw on July 6th, 2000.


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