Posted by: istop4books | August 17, 2009

The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1944 by Wladyslaw Szpilman

The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1944

This is a work of intensity like few others that I have read about the Holocaust. The memoir was written a scant 2 years after the liberation of Poland, the wounds were still fresh, but the writing is cold and detached. The remarkable aspect is that this same detachment allows the reader to understand the brutality and severity of the Nazis in Poland. Wladyslaw Szpilman was a Polish pianist who lived with his mother, father, 2 sisters and brother in Warsaw at the time of the war. As the Germans occupied the city and tightened their grip on the Jews, the sentiments went from hopefulness to hopelessness, from coping to surviving the ghetto. As Szpilman saw his entire family taken off in a convoy to most probable death, he, through hook and crook, through luck and gut instinct saves his neck over and over again to survive the war. During those years Szpilman recounts the gruesome murders, the alliances, the betrayals, his feelings of defeat, of fright, of knowing the end was knocking at his door, with such feeling, written in a manner that is unforgettable. How he was able to endure, having made himself a noose to hang himself rather than fall into the hands of the Nazis; see a elderly man thrown out of a window while still in his chair, falling to his death because he was unable to stand in front of the SS – how he did not lose his mind in remarkable. Towards the end of the war the person who perhaps saves his life, and his belief in humanity is none other than a Nazi officer.   This stuff would not have passed muster had the book been a work of fiction.

Toward the end of the book, there is a diary which belonged to the Nazi Captain who actually acted in a humane manner towards Szpilman.  In it, he questions over and over how a human being, born innocent and pure, can turn into the brutal, heartless, savage killer that the Nazis became. He blames it on Godlessness, on the lack of religion on these peoples’ lives.  I disagree.   The Protestants and the Catholics, clergy and lay men and women – looked the other way until they were up to their necks in brutality.  These people justified their actions, and allowed the mob mentality to dominate their thoughts and I sincerely feel that unfortunately it could easily happen again – religion or no religion.  In fact, sometimes the most religious among us are the ones who most happily suppress another race.


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