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am 6. April 2015
Wladyslaw Szpilman wrote down this account of his years under the German occupation of Warsaw immediately after the events. Even though his memoir is as full of horror as all other reminiscences of the holocaust, the writing is almost detached and matter-of-fact. Actually, I found the film with Adrian Brody more overwhelming.

That he escaped the fate of millions of fellow-Jews was due to some intuitive choices, his unbelievable luck in several hairbreadth escapes and the selfless actions of a number of people who risked their lives to save him. And of course thanks to Wilm Hosenfeld, "the "one human being wearing German uniform that I met".

Tragically, Szpilman could not pay back his debt and Captain Hosenfeld died in Russian captivity while plenty of Nazi criminals spent their golden years in South America and even on the shores of Bavarian lakes.
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am 15. Februar 2000
On my first visit to Warsaw my 81-year old cousin, a friend of the author, recommended this book. I was told that as Smierc Miasta it was poorly written: in English Anthea Bell has made it poetic, and truly evocative.
The story of the herding into the ghetto; the parasitical class conspiring with the Nazis to be at the top of the pyre, gaining extra weeks of life.
The symbolic of slicing a toffee as a last meal at Umschlagplatz before the family go off to cremation; the escape by random selection of the author; the hiding, the fear, the isolation and sense of being alone. The suicidal streak, and yet survival.
To hide, and yet be discovered against the backdrop of the Warsaw Rising of August 1944, and to be discovered by a German Officer....and fed, and saved. An officer who lost his own life in a Soviet camp. The path to redemption of the German officer, ashamed of what his people have done, and saving one life amidst the loss of so many. Do not forget 250.000 people died in that August Rising, and the rest taken to Pruschkow for transport to concentration camps.
It is a story of poignancy: you begin to wonder what he has survived for; family gone, friends gone; city gone; culture gone. How does one rebuild after peering into the Abyss ? And, it should not be forgotten - visit Pawiak, the remnants of the Nazi Gaol - 40.000 Poles were executed for hiding Jews in a country where whole apartment blocks were executed for common humanity. This was the story of a Polish Jew, a pianist trained in Germany, and the utter barbarity of demonic forces of destruction.
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am 8. Februar 2000
As a Jew I can rarely bring myself to read books on the Holocaust, as they are usually so full of despair. But I am glad I made an exception for this book. It is among the handful of truly special books I have read. One to treasure and remember, and pass on. It will hold it's place on your bookshelf like the score of great music, or a classic photograph. It is less a book than a life rendered vividly and sensitively on your imagination. It is a read which arrested me with it's first few pages, and which enthralled me with it's hollow beauty. It describes a bitter life, yet one where there are still kernels of surprising sweetness. It sets a powerful record of the ability of 'ordinary' human survival. The author was no hero, no role model, and had little except for his decency, talent for music, and strange unexplained desire to survive. Perhaps it's noblest moments are where it sets our slanted popular histories straight. There were good Germans and self-sacrifcing Poles. There were unnumbered hundreds of thousands who put themselves at risk, and ignored the anti-semitism all around them - to help Jews. The history of these ordinary people - pople who were neither , rich like Schindler, nor well placed like Foley - rests largely unrecorded. The deafening silence of our historians about this ordinary heroism is a disgrace to all of us. This short book begins to undo this great injustice.
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am 12. Januar 2000
My Polish cousins know the author: one recommended the book as i wanted to know about their lives under Occupation. Anthea Bell translated it beautifully: I hear in Polish it is not well-written as Stare Miast. It was a human story; all too human, the parasitical nature of the Nazi inspuired feeding chain in the Ghetto as man is set against man until they are exterminated in turn, each living a few more weeks. The quiet dignity of cutting a toffee at Umschlagplatz. The humanity and shame of a German soldier in juxtaposition to the barbarity of the rank and file.
I was left wondering: how had he survived this madness; and then, I wondered what is it you live for when you have been denuded of all that is dear ?
I am overwhelmed by the "beauty" of this short book: it says so much, so simply, and it makes the everyday "banality of evil" so clear, so vivid, and so hurtful in the present day. My 81 year-old cousin recommended this book, about a man he knew well, and who had lived through this mess himself.
It is a pity a film of quality, simple magnificence like Spencer Tracy in "The Seventh Cross" was not made about this.
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am 23. August 1999
The Pianist is Szpilman's personal account of the incremental loss of his home, his family and his will to live in German-occupied Warsaw. From 1939 to 1945, the Jewish population in Warsaw fell from 500,000 to less than 50,000. During these years, German soldiers and Ukrainian thugs-for-hire taunted, tortured, mutilated and murdered an innocent and defenseless people. Initially Szpilman's status as a celebrity kept him alive but ultimately it was his raw survival instinct that was the key to his endurance.
The power of this work stems from Szpilman's personal yet detached manner of telling his story. It seems a nearly impossible task to describe in words the kind of horrific events that took place during this time. Humanity must always be aware of the evil that lurks within our nature. We must never forget the horrors we are capable of perpetrating, observing, tolerating and permitting. This book should be required reading for every citizen of the modern world. The world must never forget the Holocaust.
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am 14. Februar 2000
As a child of Survivors, I've had my fill of Holocaust tales, but this was the choice of my book club, so I reluctantly picked it up. And was immediately drawn into it.
The author tells a story that is so full of what we, from our comfortable distance, would term impossibilities that I found myself becoming numb to the next horror. It's hard for us to imagine events like this - I've often tried to imagine what it would be like, what I would do, if my government turned on me with such murderous intent, and find that I have no frame of reference through which to process that idea. Yet millions of people found themselves in that situation, in which the unthinkable became commonplace. And they dealt with it, as best they could, until they died, some sooner, some later, but all with the knowledge that they had done the best they could in a world turned upside down, for which nothing in human experience could have prepared them.
Szpilman tells his story in what appears to be an entirely objective, emotionless way, except for occasional flashes of fury or biting wit. This is an account of What Happened, not how he felt about it. That makes for strange reading; What Happened was so extraordinary that it's hard to imagine that he could just write it all down without more emotion. But he wrote this book for his own purposes, rather than publication, right after the events described herein occured, and continued to live in Warsaw and continue his work, so I assume that it was written for cathartic effect - to let the paper be his memory so he could get on with living.
Toward the end, as he writes of his succession of hiding places and deepening hunger, I found myself rushing to get through it - I was done with burned out buildings and scavenging for oatmeal and fly-studded water - I wanted to know how he survived. The account of his meeting the SS officer who saved him was entirely unexpected and helped put the rest of the story into sharper focus. In a way, it personalized the entire story - it ceased to be yet another too-familiar account of extreme privation and became one of personal redemption. And it made his assertion that he was the last person left alive in Warsaw when the Germans retreated more believable.
There are a lot of Holocaust survival stories out there, and they are all harrowing. This one is equally so, and made the more so by the objective way in which it is told - the horror is simply stated, and the interpretation of it is left to the reader - and our own imaginations are much more powerful than other peoples' statements.
This is a book that will stay with you for a long. time.
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am 8. November 1999
A lot is said and written about the Warsaw ghetto and the awful life of Jews in Warsaw during WWII. Usually the picture is impersonal. Terrible things are happening to Jews as a race but, what is happening to individuals?
Few people have endured wartime terror personally and look at the happenings of wartime Warsaw from a historical point of view with little feeling of what terrible things happened to individuals.
Wladyslav Szpilman gives the reader greater understanding of the despicable experiences of war through his graphic descriptions of his own life in hiding from the German occupiers. It is only because of his own self discipline that he survives.
Unusually a contribution to his survival is made by a German officer who is uncharacteristically humane and this, too, adds to the incredibility of the tale.
We are lucky to have such examples of bravery and humanity to give us hope that in similar circumstances we would have had the courage of a Szpilman or the mercy and sympathy of the German.
This episode in Warsaw serves, once again, to illustrate how wastefully stupid man is to let his nature turn so sour when, in the end, there will be survivors and there will be heros and the efforts to snub out man's better instincts will fail. That Wladyslav Spilman goes on to a distiguished musical career is the fitting rebuttal to all the hate that Hitler spread so uselessly and fortunately, fruitlessly.
If you are curious about how you might deal with supreme adversity you might read this book and consider whether you are of he same mettle.
It would be interesting to see how film makers would deal with this story.
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am 4. Oktober 1999
The work is remarkable in many ways. I will remark upon the story's simultaneous, many different interwoven stories on several levels. First of all it is precious history. A tale of utter horror, but not depressing or abhorent in its presentation. The author is a bright young artist; warm and family-loving. He is a first hand observer of the most brutal physical and mental horrors perpetrated by the germans. In a world of killing and killed, he is ingenuously trusting and pacifist; yet he survives as not one in ten thousand did, over six years. He is befriending and befriended; never naive but never dehumanized, either. And the mysterious officer who saves the pianist, is himself subsequently and ironically destroyed psychologically and physically by experiences similar to those borne by the pianist. It is a story of hope and love. All the more remarkable for being both true, and for being written immediately after "liberation", uncoloured by reflection or attempted insights.
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am 15. März 2000
This book offers an invaluable example of how, even in the worst circumstances, good and the will to survive can triumph over evil. Although the cruelties of the Holocaust are detailed, the author never forgot the kindness of others and with equal emphasis meticulously recorded each good deed which gave him the strength to carry on. The acts of kindness shown to the author during the final days of Warsaw's occupation make the ending historically significant, demonstrating that the desire to destroy was not universal among Germans, and that many German solders were merely pawns in Hitler's sadistic game of domination.
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am 14. März 2000
This book offers an invaluable example of how, even in the worst circumstances, good and the will to survive can triumph over evil. Although the cruelties of the Holocaust are detailed, the author never forgot the kindness of others and with equal emphasis meticulously recorded each good deed which gave him the strength to carry on. The acts of kindness shown to the author during the final days of Warsaw's occupation make the ending historically significant, demonstrating that the desire to destroy was not universal among Germans, and that many German solders were merely pawns in Hitler's sadistic game of domination.
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