“I looked over to the north of the city, where the ghetto had been, where half a million Jews had been murdered-there was nothing (Wladyslaw Szpilman).” Wladyslaw Szpilman was a Polish pianist, composer, and memoirist who lived through, and survived, the Holocaust of World War II. Despite his death, Szpilman has not only left his memories of that gruesome time, but also his musical legacy.
Wladyslaw “Wladek” Szpilman was “born into a family of musicians (Mazelis 9),” in Poland on December 5, 1911 to Edwarda and Samuel Szpilman (Wladyslaw Szpilman (Piano) 1). He was the eldest of three siblings: Halina, Regina, and Henryk (Wladyslaw Szpilman 1911-2000 3). Following similarly under his father’s musical ‘footsteps,’ Szpilman took his first piano lesson at the Chopin School of Arts in Warsaw. This is where he found his true passion. He continued his piano studies at the Academy of the Arts in Berlin (Wladyslaw Szpilman (Piano) 1).
Up until 1939, Warsaw had been a wonderful place to live and perform. That is, until the Germans took control of the area. Ghettos were then established to privately eliminate those they felt as part of an inferior race (1). On November 15, 1940, construction on the largest ghetto, the Warsaw Ghetto, began. Szpilman and his family did not want to move to this new ‘development’; they wanted to stay and protect their home and honor. Towards the end of 1939, Jews were forced to wear armbands that displayed a Star of David (Wladyslaw Szpilman 1911-2000 4).
These ghettos were also very unsanitary. Lice were common and often were carriers of typhus. 5,000 people died every month from typhus alone (Wladyslaw Szpilman (Piano) 1). Bodies of the dead could not even be buried fast enough, so often they lay in the streets covered with newspaper until they could be taken away (Szpilman 18). July 1942 was when deportations began but just one month before, Wladyslaw’s brother, Henryk, was one of 1,000 men rounded up. Fortunately, Wladyslaw knew someone and saved his brother’s life. This group was ultimately sent to Treblinka, a concentration camp, to be an experimental group for the new gas chambers (Wladyslaw Szpilman 1911-2000 4).
On August 16, 1942, Wladyslaw’s entire family, including him, was selected to be deported (4). One their way to the trains, Wladyslaw felt a hand, was flung back, and saved by a Jewish officer. At first, Wladyslaw didn’t want to be separated from his family, but he realized what it was all about. All they faced was death. He had a chance of survival (5).
After the loss of his family, Wladyslaw stayed with several friends while completing a variety of jobs, some of which almost were the end of him. He did run into some old friends who offered to help him get out. Once he even had a meeting arranged with a woman who was supposed to take him in, but she canceled saying she couldn’t. Every time a work site closed, a selection was announced but yet Wladyslaw was never one of them. Strange enough, before...