Anniversaries & holidays

Anniversary of Władysław Szpilman's birth

Pamiątka po Władysławie Szpilmanie - czarny krawat w jasne grochy.
fot. Muzeum Historii Żydów Polskich

The POLIN Museum collection boasts a keepsake that used to belong to Władysław Szpilman who was born 110 years ago—his tie. 

The tie was donated to the collection by the composer’s son, Andrzej Szpilman. Perhaps this is the tie which the pianist owned prior to World War Two, and which he used to wear in the Warsaw ghetto? In some of Szpilman’s archival photos we have recognised a similar tie. 

The musician was the eldest child of Estera nee Rapaport and Shmuel Szpilman. He had three siblings: sisters Regina (b. 1913) and Halina (b. 1917), and brother Henryk (b. 1915). The family came from Sosnowiec; however, by the end of the 1930s, both the parents and grown-up siblings settled in Warsaw where Władysław worked at the Polish Radio (since 1935). The Szpilmans remained in the city and later lived in the ghetto. In August 1942, during the so-called Great Liquidation Action in the Warsaw ghetto, all the family members—except for Władysław—were deported from Umschlagplatz to Treblinka, where they perished. Władysław Szpilman was pulled out from the crowd waiting to board the train to Treblinka by one of the guards. Ultimately, he escaped from the ghetto and remained in hiding on the “Aryan” side. After the 1944 Warsaw Uprising, Szpilman did not leave Warsaw together to other civilians; instead, he continued to hide in the ruins until January 1945.

When the Polish Radio returned on air, Szpilman played Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor—the same piece he had performed live on air when the explosion of a German bomb nearby the radio station interrupted the broadcast.

Szpilman told his wartime story to Jerzy Waldorff. The story was published as a book already in 1946, under a telling title Death of a City. It served as a basis of one of the first feature films produced in postwar Poland. The original script was written by Czesław Miłosz and Jerzy Andrzejewski; the film was to be titled Warsaw’s Robinson and was to be directed by Jerzy Zarzycki. Alas, its final version was heavily distorted (the original version has not survived); the film premiered in 1950, at the very peak of the socialist regime, under the title The City Untamed.

Film adaptation of Szpilman’s wartime story directed by Roman Polański and titled The Pianist premiered two years after the musician passed away. A new edition of his memoirs, which gained worldwide recognition, is also titled The Pianist.
To read more about Władysław Szpilman, please go to the website >>

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