“..By ..time ..gates of ..Ghetto closed in November 1940 ..my Family had sold everything we could sell long ago.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
Wladyslaw Szpilman is a Polish Jewish Music Composer, a renowned Classical Pianist and latterly, known in the World at large as an author. Recognised for his autobiographical work, Death of a City, or as we know it, The Pianist, Wladislaw affords us a testimony to the struggle and catastrophe he managed to Survive throughout the period of Nazi occupation of Warsaw and Poland. Wladislaw was born on December 5th. 1911 in Sosnowiec, Poland to Estera and Szmuel Szpilman and outlived them due to Hitler’s intervention in determining Jewish lives as unworthy of life.
“..one of ..finest people I have ever met ..Janusz Korczak. ..Korczak’s true value was not in what he wrote but ..that he lived as he wrote.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
Wladislaw studied Classical Piano at the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw, Poland and then went on went on to study at the Academy of Arts in Berlin, Germany in 1931. Perhaps too he learned the study of People, and it was to People who mattered that his glowing references to their existence are quite remarkable. Wladislaw became a regular and popular performer on Polish radio and in concert right up to Hitler’s invasion of Poland. With the abhorrent screech of hatred spreading throughout Germany, after the rise of Hitler, Wladislaw returned to Warsaw in 1933.
“..Everyone knows ..what happened in Warsaw ..Slonim ..it is already time to count ..cities where ..catastrophies did not occur. ..understand ..better to be sent to Wolkowsk than ..Treblinka.” Ephraim Barash.
Wladislaw soon established his credentials as a pianist and as the Composer of Classical and even Popular music. In 1934 he spent time touring Poland, delivering recitals and establishing himself as a solo artiste of some renown. On April 5th. 1935 Wladislaw became a featured house artist when he joined Polish Radio, using his skill to perform both Classical pieces and a fusion of the newer Jazz Music now influencing a more expressive Western and contemporary World. When, on September 1st. 1939, and without notice, Hitler’s invading forces crossed into Poland, Wladislaw was still performing for Polish Radio.
“..Ghetto was closing in. Street by Street ..Germans were reducing its area.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
Here, Wladislaw was present, performing on September 23rd. 1939 when German bombs rocked the Radio station. He survived that attempt to silence the music of hope for both Jews and non-Jews within Poland. On October 31st. 1940 Wladyslaw, along with his Family, his Mother Estera, formerly Rapaport, his Father Szmuel, his Brother Henryk and both of his Sister’s Regina who was 27 years of age and Halina who was nearing her 23rd. year, found themselves enclosed into the designated Jewish quarter that history knows is The Warsaw Ghetto.
“..I am in Warsaw ..I am here. ..hard to grasp who I actually am. But it is actually here that I understand and know everything most precisely.” Halina Birenbaum.
Once the detention process had been accomplished, and the Jews themselves were forced to brick up the entrances to and from the area, thus creating a Walled Ghetto, the Jews of Warsaw were detained within a concentrated space that was being formed around them. Eventually displaced from their own home, even though it was within the Ghetto boundary, their home was redesignated and along with the vast majority of Warsaw’s Jews they were all crammed together, crushed into a more condensed space within the Ghetto.
“..on August 16th. 1942 ..our turn came. A selection ..and only Henryk and Halina were passed as fit for work.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
In order to support the Family, Wladislaw worked in various Cafe’s, the Nowoczesna Cafe and the Sztuka Cafe amongst them and was able to feed himself and then supply the Family from what was made available to him. By now it was far too late for the Szpilman Family, and they, alongside as many as 1,000,000 further Jews reached the end of the line. By the time Wladislaw’s Family reached Treblinka, the Death Camp had been operating since July 22nd. 1942 and for 22 Days, excluding Sunday’s, Slaughtering Jews with regularity and impunity.
“..10 years old when ..Nazis marched into Warsaw. My Sister was in ..hospital having her first baby. I was about to be an uncle. That night we went to ..hospital to visit my Sister. Soldiers throwing bundles out of windows and catching them on their bayonets surrounded .. hospital. Blood was everywhere. We never saw ..Baby or my Sister. ..Nazis put my family in ..camps. My Father and I were together. We never saw my Mother and Sisters again. My Father died. I promised him I would write our story.” Ben Edelbaum.
According to Kurt Gerstein’s own assessment, as a Waffen SS cleansing expert, we can learn from this that 11,293,300 Jews of Europe were under direct threat of extermination. If we calculate Jewish losses at this rate of 25,000 Jews, who could be Murdered there every single day, Treblinka could have processed 550,000 Polish Jews during that formative time. This meant the depletion of Polish Jewry, and not simply from the Warsaw Ghetto alone, but the systematic nature of the slaughter was completed and those murdered Polish Jews in this single facility could already have been extinguished.
“..around 5th August 1942 ..I had taken a brief rest from work and was walking down Gesia Street ..I happened to see Janusz Korczak and his orphans leaving ..Ghetto. ..evacuation of ..Jewish orphanage run by Janusz Korczak had been ordered for that morning. ..children were to have been taken away alone. He had ..chance to save himself ..and it was only with difficulty that he persuaded ..Germans to take him too. He had spent long years of his life with children and now ..on this last journey ..he could not leave them alone. He wanted to ease things for them. He told ..orphans they were going out into ..country ..so they ought to be cheerful. At last they would be able to exchange ..horrible suffocating city walls for meadows of flowers ..streams where they could bathe ..woods full of berries and mushrooms. He told them to wear their best clothes ..and so they came out into ..yard ..2 by 2 ..nicely dressed and in a happy mood. ..little column was led by an SS man who loved children ..as Germans do ..even those he was about to see on their way into ..next world. He took a special liking to a boy of 12 ..a violinist who had his instrument under his arm. ..SS man told him to go to ..head of ..procession of Children and play ..and so they set off. When I met them in Gesia Street ..smiling Children were singing in chorus ..little violinist was playing for them and Korczak was carrying 2 of ..smallest Infants ..who were beaming too ..and telling them some amusing story. I am sure that even in ..Gas Chamber ..as ..gas was stifling Childish throats and striking terror instead of hope into ..orphans’ hearts ..Old Doctor must have whispered with one last effort ..it’s all right ..Children ..it will be all right. So that at least he could spare his little charges ..fear of passing from life to death.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
On August 6th. 1942 a further 15,000 of Warsaw’s Jews are murdered in Treblinka and this is recognised by Wladislaw in what was a mounting scale of atrocity. Here we are to recognise that amongst these Warsaw’s Jews who are to be murdered this day, were those of the ‘Orphanage’ directed by Janusz (Hersch Goldszmit) Korczak. Together with his assistant, Madame Stefa (Stefania Wilczynska), Janusz is seen at the head of a column of orphans as he walked them toward a more consoling end that would finally terminate within Treblinka.
“..on August 17th. 1942 ..we are running 3 facilities. ..Treblinka ..120 kilometres northeast of Warsaw. Maximum output 25,000 persons daily. Belzec ..Treblinka ..and Majdanek I have visited personally in detail ..together with ..leader of these facilities ..Polizeihauptmann Wirth.” SS Obersturmfuhrer Kurt Gerstein.
What Gerstein was preparing the World for was the capacity of capability in dissolving the World of Jewish existence. Not just that though, Kurt Gerstein would allow History to acknowledge exactly what Hitler managed, and in what the Reich created by the weight of a hatred for the Jewish People, emerged from the auspices of The Final Solution was a destructive capacity to eviscerate in excess of 6,000,000 Jewish People. During the late Summer of 1942 Treblinka was building a momentum for Slaughter that might just see more than 1,000,000 Jews wholly annihilated there.
“..Germans hit upon ..bright idea to ease their task. Decrees appeared ..stating ..all families who voluntarily came to ..Umschlagplatz to emigrate would get a loaf of bread and a kilo of jam per person.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
For starving Jews, as it proved for Wladyslaw’s entire Family, those who would be unceremoniously transported away from the Warsaw Ghetto, and through the Umschlagplatz, their fate was sealed with emigration a mere euphemism further. For these Polish Jews, who were then to be resettled within Treblinka, these euphemism’s meant too little for many of them at the time but could never disguise the eventuality that they were being Gassed to Death. That realisation becomes such a painful reality for Wladislaw, as with time the truth was crystal clear.
“..big speculators are sitting at home in Warsaw and Lublin ..where ..special organisations ..send their people with truck loads of goods out to ..huts around Treblinka. ..entire region ..far and near ..sucks blood out of this greedy slaughterhouse. It is their direct interest to keep Treblinka going to keep its valuable by-products flowing ..money ..gold ..diamonds.” Richard Glazer.
All of this emergence of truthful reality must have opened up and revealed these expressions of lukewarm terms like emigration, resettlement and transports East. As Hitler’s true intentions for all Jews were disentangled from the hidden meanings that the mass slaughter of the Jews would convey, all of this emerged into our history as The Holocaust, a slaughter of in excess of 6,000,000 Jews. For all those Jews, still awaiting signals from their Family, their Friends or even their Relatives, those Polish Jews that might somehow inform them they were still somehow alive, what never reached them was too many of the artefacts of deception the Nazi’s engaged in.
“..impossible not to brush against other people in ..street. ..dense crowd of humanity was not walking but pushing and shoving its way forward. ..A chilly odour of decay.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
Immediately that the surety of their pain struck, this must have been more agonising a reality than even the uncertainty that was being afforded them. However, as Wladislaw continued his personal struggle, he grasped at straws and remained within in the Ghetto. Here he made that effort as a labourer so as to provide him with the very means to not only value his continuing life but to appraise himself of what was being done to his fellow Jews. In the meantime, the opportunity to smuggle guns into the Ghetto for the Jewish Resistance movement became a chance to fight back in some small way.
“..As to what was happening ..in all of Europe occupied by ..Germans ..Anne Frank’s house in Amsterdam ..in ..pit of Babi Yar ..Kiev ..ghetto of Warsaw ..Lidice ..this pestilence ..about to submerge us ..no precise information ..reached us.” Primo Levi.
The opportunity to engage in supplying little of the hope the whole of Poland would not afford these Jews, which Wladislaw fully grasped, aided a Jewish effort that is both Historical and Monumental. Right up until Wladislaw moved out of the Ghetto on February 13th. 1943, the paltry few weapons were still on hand to offer a Resistance to the Nazi inhumanity and threat to all Polish freedoms which Poland did not engage in within Warsaw itself. For Wladislaw though, and just before the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising itself, his battle to survive was fought against both the Nazi occupiers and those non-Jewish Poles willing to sell him to them.
“..Jehuda Zyskind. ..smuggled secret reports into ..Ghetto. ..over ..years of horror which divide me from ..time ..he was still alive ..I admire his unyielding will. ..when ..caught ..He ..his Wife and Children ..all shot there and then ..even little Symche aged 3.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
On April 17th. 1943 when the Jewish Warsaw Ghetto Uprising begins, there where only what was left of the remnants of Warsaw’s Jews. In truth, there were perhaps some 70,000 Jews, still not so strong who were all the same, still barely alive. Here, Polish Jewish Resistance here emerged vigorously armed with those few guns smuggled into the Ghetto. Tragically, and such was this small group of Jews who were largely unaided by those of non-Jewish Poland, who did not consider the fight theirs, they outfought their Nazi oppressor’s beyond their physical capability.
“..Most of ..Jews ..Warsaw ..Cracow ..Lublin ..already dead. ..killed mainly in ..death camps ..built in ..spring of 1942. ..autumn 1942 ..Ostrow Jews probably knew ..vaguely ..terrible facts.” Isidore Last.
For this, the proper Warsaw Uprising, as it emerged within The Ghetto, recognised not only what a catastrophe had gone past them in recent times, they recognised still what was to come of Hitler’s single most intention in all his protests and vehement demands. Here, these Jews of The Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, these Jews who stood taller than a nation at War, have now established a marker for which Polish History must live up to. It is very much a clearer indication as to why so many Polish Jews were delivered freely to their destruction on their own home territory.
“..It was no use struggling any more. I had done what I could to save my loved ones. ..It had obviously been impossible from ..start.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
What is true for these remnants of Warsaw’s Polish Jewry, as suggested to History, they were merely some 70,000 Warsaw Jews strong, we know their fate was to be as they had fought to resist it. As it would eventually prove to be the case for all 6,000,000 of those Jews consumed within the terms already written for The Holocaust in The Final Solution of The Jewish Question. Immediately a semblance of indifference to the threat to the Jewish People is awakened it only adds to the plight of a threatened People because they are Jews.
Friday April 23rd. 1943 “..Great things are happening ..this action ..we have dared to take is of enormous value. ..Jewish self defence has become a fact.” Mordechai Anielewicz.
This all then adds weight to the very intolerance which decided the course of all the events leading to the destructive capacity to annihilate at will 6,000,000 Jewish People and more. Of course, no Jew could have known that the grand design had been in preparation every since Hitler had conceived of it. But the sad fact of that truth is that Hitler was either the master of all he surveyed or was the puppet of even his own insignificance. While there exists a conjecture over even if Hitler stood tall enough to have conceived of the inconceivable, we know he was minute. This all adds further to the abject denial that some seek so as to distort what 6,000,000 Human Beings were forced to endure and could not Survive.
“..I pray they may never learn what such fear and suffering are.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
In later life Wladislaw would return to remind the future of what such endurance meant and it is essential in History to know and expound the truth of its value. Of course, there is always a valueless discourse which seeks to present Hitler as the master of all he stood over, except when it comes to us pointing to his despotic nature. The levels of apoplexy, when the evil of his misdeeds and Genocidal effort unveils Hitler in terms of the amassed slaughter of 6,000,000 Jews goes into overdrive. It is simply unimaginable to adherents that Hitler’s fetid mind could have reacted with such bitterness against a People simply because they were Jews.
Thursday April 29th. 1943 “..strength of ..German military and police machine ..being weakened daily. This strength broke near Stalingrad ..had to retreat from Tunis now stands powerless before a group of Jews who defend themselves in ..ghetto.” Polska Underground Newspaper.
But Hitler did advocate a final resolve for Jewish destruction and History has the ability to ensure that we have searched and detained the veracity of that fact. For us, so as to ensure that truth is delivered verbatim, we have searched the archives of World History to shine a light upon the deep darkness to pervade the non-Jewish Polish effort in all of this. While much of Poland sought to distance itself from the effort in The Holocaust, there was always a given testimony to make us aware of the knowledge of the atrocity which so many of them participated in.
“..There were spies ..paid agents ..willing volunteers ..who would attack ..Jew ..making him hand over ..money ..jewellery. ..Then ..quite often ..handed ..people ..over to ..Germans.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
There can be no disguising what was a deliberate effort to destroy all of Polish Jewry, and with non-Jewish Polish assistance, regardless of its breadth of collusion. What then transpires so as to conceal that truth diminishes the Polish nation of its historical truth and sullies the very memory of the past which captured it. Evidence, and the weight of integrity that the science of History demands, is not long obscured by attempts that must never distort the truth. What history has become aware of as The Final Solution of The Jewish Question, and what this must mean for all Jews within Europe, all 11,293,300 Jews were directly threatened.
Wednesday May 5th. 1943 “..In Poland there were ..about 4,500,000 Jews ..there remain ..only 100,000. ..Warsaw Ghetto containing ..650,000 ..only 20,000 ..25,000 Jews there. ..majority killed. ..Special death camps at Lublin (Majdanek) ..Treblinka near Brest-Litovsk. ..several hundred ..jammed into large rooms ..where they die by gassing.” Vatican Memo.
For most of these Jews, and for the longest time, it was not a known fact that for any Jew, that this was a systematic approach to annihilate them all. As der Einsatzgruppe began its shooting operation, or as Chelmno, Belzec, Majdanek, Sobibor and now Treblinka brought to bear, these appeared as random acts in the first instance. What fell upon All Jews within Poland and then Europe was such that the logistical lines of its progress, saw Jews who were isolated from all of these acts amongst 100’s of 1,000’s of square miles. When, on May 10th, 1943 the Warsaw Ghetto Jewish Uprising came to an end, the Ghetto was reduced to a pile of rubble 3 storey’s high.
“..already on ..Aryan side when we heard shots. ..from ..other group of Jewish workers ..surrounded in ..Ghetto ..answering ..German terror with return fire.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
It would be a week before Stroop could declare that Warsaw was ‘Judenrein’ with 22,000 of these Surviving Jews being transported to Majdanek. Until the very end of the War, Wladislaw could not be certain of the fate of his entire Family, despite the knowledge of what Treblinka came to mean. As he struggled to find places to hide in Warsaw, assisted by his friends, he now harboured few hopes of being united with them once Treblinka became a reality to Surviving Polish Jews. As with all the Death Camps in Poland, these spaces meant for All Jews who were sent there an intentioned and systematic destruction.
“..On May 10th. 1943 ..first period of our bloody History ..history of ..Warsaw Jews ..came to an end. ..site where ..buildings of ..Ghetto had once stood became a ragged heap of rubble reaching 3 storeys high.” Marek Edelman.
Then, in November 1944, as the end of Hitler’s rampage came toward its justified end, Wladislaw was discovered by a German Officer, Hauptman Wilhelm Hosenfeld. This German Officer, who helped Wladislaw find sanctuary, restored to Wladislaw a certain hope that an element of goodness still prevailed into the World he was still emerging from. At the end of World War II Wladislaw resumed his career and returned to his role at Polish Radio in 1945. Wladislaw then went on to become the Director of the Polish Radio’s Popular Music Department.
“..Zygmunt Lednicki ..passed a temporary camp for German prisoner’s of war. ..an officer rose ..staggered over. ..he asked ..Do you happen to know ..Mr. Szpilman. ..Tell him I’m here.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
This Directorship would be a role he remained with for 18 years while he also accomplished a prolific array of composed Orchestral pieces and many 100’s of songs. In 1950 Wladislaw married Halina Grzecznarowska and they had 2 Children together, Christopher and Andrzej. It was not until 1951 that Wladislaw found out the name of the German who had offered him hope with a compassion that had been so missing for most of those years of struggle. There were many attempts to secure Wilm Hosenfeld’s freedom but he was to die in Russian captivity in 1952.
“..division of Europe into 2 halves culturally as well as politically ..after ..war. ..ensured shaped ..Polish popular music scene over several decades ..but ..Western frontier of Poland constituted a barrier.” Andrzej Szpilman.
In much of his later career Wladislaw Szpilman’s work operated in somewhat of a vacuum and did not reach a larger audience outside Poland. As his Son Andrzej relates, the West was continually attributing this Wladislaw’s work to the censured efforts of a free voice attempting to escape Russian suppressions. In November 1998, Wladislaw Szpilman was presented with the Commander’s Cross with Star of the Order of Polonia Restituta. In March 1999 Wladyslaw Szpilman visited London for Jewish Book Week so as to discuss his work now resonating in the Literary World.
“..I looked over ..City ..where ..Ghetto had been ..where 500,000 Jews had been Murdered ..there was nothing left.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
The Book, first published in 1946 as Death of A City was now titled The Pianist which went on to be published into 35 different languages. The Book itself offered further testimony of the struggles for Wladislaw and his Jewish People within Poland. The Book is also set against the loss of immediate Family and his personal struggle against the intolerable constituent positions that was the Nazi intolerance and so much local indifference. Wladislaw died on July 6th. 2000 at the age of 88, in his beloved Warsaw, and he is buried at the Powazki Military Cemetery, Warsaw, Poland.
“..This film would not be possible without ..blueprint provided by Wladyslaw Szpilman. ..a tribute to his survival.” Adrien Brody.
In 2002, the Book was translated into a Film and was directed by Roman Polanski, himself a Survivor of the Cracow Ghetto. The Film won 3 Academy Awards and it’s Best Actor amplified what the World must come to realise. On September 25th. 2011 the Polish Radio renamed its Studio 1, the Wladyslaw Szpilman Studio. On December 4th. 2011, at the place where humanity crossed the divide, at 223 Niepodleglosci Avenue in Warsaw, Poland, a commemorative plaque was unveiled. In the presence of Wladislaw’s Wife Halina and his Son Andrzej.
“..There are not ..remains left of my Sisters ..Regina ..Halina ..I shall never find a grave where I could go to pray for their souls.” Wladislaw Szpilman.
Alongside them was Wilm Hosenfeld’s daughter, Jorinde Krejci-Hosenfeld as it became recognised that not all of humanity had been crushed during Hitler’s foray into Poland. It is remarkable too that a German did more for the Polish Jew Wladislaw Szpilman than 30 million other, but non-Jewish Poles sought to do. It is imperative in knowing the truth that we are aware of all that is truthful. Not one Historian worthy of credit has ever said the non-Jewish Poles are guilty of the rimes of The Holocaust. But not all non-Jewish Poles are innocent of that fact.
“..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.” Wladislaw Szpilman.