The Pianist – Wladyslaw Szpilman
I like to think that I can keep my emotions in check. There are rarely any films I cry at other than The Notebook and dare I say it The Lion King, where I become an emotional wreck and ask who in God’s name decided it would be an excellent idea to kill off Mufasa. I’m even more a steel heart when it comes to books; the only novel I have shed a tear at is Khaled Hosseini’s tale of the harrowing Afghan regime in ‘A Thousand Splendid Suns’. However I can now add The Pianist to the list of tear jerkers.
I’m sad to say that I probably would not have read the book had it not been for my boss lending it to me. I remember being forced to watched the film in an RE class at school when I was about 14. As all individuals at this age I don’t think I understood the full severity of the film’s contents and instead thought it would be a good idea to kick the boy’s chair who sat in front of me (I have never been a good flirt).
Again, I will admit when I picked up The Pianist it took me a while to get into it as I find it hard to read a true story of someone’s sufferings. However, one evening this week and thirty pages in I could not put it down, I told myself at the beginning of every chapter this would be the last chapter I read before I went to sleep. This happened about six times. I longed to know what was to happen to Wladyslaw Szpilman and his family.
If for some reason you are not familiar with The Pianist it is the true story of a Polish Jew’s fight for survival against the oppressive Nazis during World War II. I lost count of the number of times Szpilman nearly met his end from being starved for three days outside in the oppressive heat – the end of this form of torture resulted in his family being taken to concentration camps whilst he was left to at the mercy of the Nazi’s occupying Warsaw – to hiding in the attic in his friend’s apartment whilst the German’s searched his building.
But it was the German soldier who helped Szpilman who is the guardian angel in this tragedy. Szpilman is past the point of starvation as he hides in the attic of the apartment when Captain Hosenfeld finds him. The solider brings the Polish man food and states he will keep his silence about Szpilman’s hiding place. The latter knows that if it were not for the brave German man he would be dead. The tragedy of the book – and what made me run for the Kleenex – is the ending; Szpilman outlives the war and over many years’ frantically tries to search for his life saviour only to find that the Germans are holding him captive for helping Jews, he eventually dies at the hands of them.
The inclusion of Hosenfeld’s diary extracts at the end of the book depicts him as a rational man who has the misfortune of being a German during this era. We tend to think of all Germans during this period as murders and the epitome of evil but what Szpilman’s story tells is that we must not generalise as there were Germans who did not want to fight but had to due to fear and force. This message along with the empowering tale of one’s man survival against the odds is something we can all learn from, even in today’s society.