Polish Language Blog

Władysław Szpilman Posted by on May 21, 2012 in Culture

A lot of you probably have seen the movie or read the book “The Pianist”.

Named one of the Best Books of 1999by the Los Angeles Times, The Pianist is a great movie directed by Roman Polański and starring Adrien Brody . The Pianist won the Cannes Film Festival’s most prestigious prize—the Palme d’Or.

On September 23, 1939, Władysław Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor live on the radio as shells exploded outside—so loudly that he couldn’t hear his piano. It was the last live music broadcast from Warsaw: That day, a German bomb hit the station, and Polish Radio went off the air.

Though he lost his entire family, Szpilman survived in hiding. In the end, his life was saved by a German officer who heard him play the same Chopin Nocturne on a piano found among the rubble. Written immediately after the war and suppressed for decades, The Pianist is a stunning testament to human endurance and the redemptive power of fellow feeling.

Now the widow and son of Władysław Szpilman have taken the author of a book alleging Szpilman collaborated with the Gestapo to court.

Halina Szpilman Grzecznarowska and Andrzej Szpilman want the Warsaw regional court to force an apology from Agata Tuszyńska for the accusations carried in her biography of Wiera Gran, a Jewish singer who knew Szpilman in the Warsaw ghetto.

In Roman Polanski’s 2002 film, based on Szpilman’s own account, the composer survives the liquidation of the ghetto and the war thanks in part to the intervention of a Captain Wilhelm Hosenfeld, a compassionate German army officer appalled by his country’s treatment of the Jews. Despite the dangers the German befriended the starving Szpilman, giving him food, clothes and shelter.

But in her biography, titled “The Accused: Wiera Gran”, the singer alleged Szpilman worked for the Jewish police in the ghetto, helping to organise the transport of thousands of Jews to the Treblinka death camp.

The Szpilmans claim the accusations have tarnished the composer’s name and thus warrant an apology.

“My father was never a policeman in the ghetto,” Andrzej Szpilman told the court. “These fantasies of a sick woman were presented as fact by the media.” Mr Szpilman added that Gran’s accusations may have been born out of a festering jealousy and bitterness she had for his father because she herself had never managed to escape from allegations of collaboration.

Such was the strength of the allegations that Gran was forced to leave Israel, where she had moved after the war, and settle in France. While the smear of collaborator haunted Gran till her death in 2007, Szpilman enjoyed a successful musical career in post-war Poland, and in 1998, just two years before his death, his account of his remarkable survival, also called The Pianist, brought him international recognition.

The Szpilmans’ lawyers also produced documents showing that the name of  Władysław Szpilman was never recorded as a ghetto policeman, and that no ghetto survivors other than Gran ever accused him of collaboration.

But the author has stood by her book.

“I wrote about Gran and quoted her on what she had to say about Szpilman,” said Ms Tuszyńska. “Should I have changed what she said? I was not in the ghetto where everything happened and nor was Andrzej Szpilman.” She added that her book explained that there was never any evidence to support the accusations, and that when she made them Gran was an old and frail woman.

Do następnego razu… (Till next time…)

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About the Author: Kasia

My name is Kasia Scontsas. I grew near Lublin, Poland and moved to Warsaw to study International Business. I have passion for languages: any languages! Currently I live in New Hampshire. I enjoy skiing, kayaking, biking and paddle boarding. My husband speaks a little Polish, but our daughters are fluent in it! I wanted to make sure that they can communicate with their Polish relatives in our native language. Teaching them Polish since they were born was the best thing I could have given them! I have been writing about learning Polish language and culture for Transparent Language’s Polish Blog since 2010.


  1. russ:


    I’ve not read the book, so my reaction is based only on what’s written here in this blog entry:

    If Tuszyńska’s book is a biography of Gran, then it seems pretty reasonable and expected for the book to talk about what Gran did and said, right or wrong. (Should a biography not discuss its subject’s false assertions? That would make a LOT of biographies a lot shorter…)

    And if the book addresses this accusation by Gran about Szpilman and the book says there was never any evidence to support the accusation, then it sounds like anger at the biography’s author is rather unfounded and pointless. They might as well attack YOU, because you ALSO write in this blog entry that Gran claims Szpilman worked for the Nazis. Writing that someone said X is not the same as claiming X is true.

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