The Pianist: The Extraordinary True Story of One Man’s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945

by Władysław Szpilman

Written immediately after the end of World War II, this morally complex Holocaust memoir is notable for its exact depiction of the grim details of life in Warsaw under the Nazioccupation.

  • Paperback
  • Pages: 224 pages
  • Average Rating: 4.24 out of 5
  • Published January 2003 by Picador
  • Original Title: Śmierć Miasta
  • ISBN: 0312311354 (ISBN13: 9780312311353)
  • Edition Language: English
  • Characters: Władysław Szpilman
  • Literary Awards: Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Prize for Nonfiction (2000)

Written immediately after the end of World War II, this morally complex Holocaust memoir is notable for its exact depiction of the grim details of life in Warsaw under the Nazi occupation. “Things you hardly noticed before took on enormous significance: a comfortable, solid armchair, the soothing look of a white-tiled stove,” writes Wladyslaw Szpilman, a pianist for Polish radio when the Germans invaded. His mother’s insistence on laying the table with clean linen for their midday meal, even as conditions for Jews worsened daily, makes palpable the Holocaust’s abstract horror. Arbitrarily removed from the transport that took his family to certain death, Szpilman does not deny the “animal fear” that led him to seize this chance for escape, nor does he cheapen his emotions by belaboring them. Yet his cool prose contains plenty of biting rage, mostly buried in scathing asides (a Jewish doctor spared consignment to “the most wonderful of all gas chambers,” for example). Szpilman found compassion in unlikely people, including a German officer who brought food and warm clothing to his hiding place during the war’s last days. Extracts from the officer’s wartime diary (added to this new edition), with their expressions of outrage at his fellow soldiers’ behavior, remind us to be wary of general condemnation of any group. –Wendy Smith