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    Survival in the Warsaw Ghetto: The Pianist, a Memoir by Wladyslaw Szpilman

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    Wladyslaw Szpilman’s survival in the Warsaw ghetto is nothing short of a miracle. His book, The Pianist, tells the accounts that put his survival into place. It is seen through his experiences that survival in Nazi-Occupied Warsaw comes from his own hands and fate. This duality is shown through how much control Szpilman had over his situations. The majority of the time he had no part in deciding what was to happen to him, other times he was able to induce influence but couldn’t control the outcomes, and rarely, did he have complete control of his own life. These varying levels of control and powerlessness are how he was able to survive Nazi terrorized Warsaw.

    Life represented in Szpilman’s Warsaw was like playing chess with only Pawns, against an opponent with all Queens. In his hands, he held a very few distinct moves, against someone who had no restrictions and limitless power. Throughout the book Szpilman himself is the proverbial pawn trapped in an impossible constant check mate left with no options and no hand in his own tate.

    Within The Pianist Szpilman’s survival is constantly in the hands of his German oppressors. Officers choose to give him a number instead of shipping him off to a death camp, when encountering drunk Nazis he is not killed after aggravating them. However in my reading the most poignant encounter in which Szpilman’s life is in the hands of another completely left to fate, happens in chapter 18, “Nocturene in C sharp minor”. Wherein his hiding space is discovered by an SS Officer, who has every opportunity to kill him or turn him in but instead tells Szpilman, “I’ve no intention of doing anything with you!” [CITATION Szp99 \p 177 \V 1033 1. This Officer chooses to help hide Szpilman in the loft, and feeds him while the retreating German Amy occupies the building. This tateful intervention helps Szpilman survive until the Germans no longer occupy Warsaw. Szpilman remained trapped in Warsaw from 1939 to 1945. During the beginning of German Occupation situations appeared in which Szpilman’s prowess as a pianist, and his own personal pleading influenced his situation. However, his oppressive German overlords always held the upper hand and had the final say in his survival.

    Misery and helplessness often result when someone has very little control over their life. At the start of the German occupation Szpilman attempted to sway people who might have remembered his piano prowess. It is described that after six days of “puling all the strings [he] could” Szpilman was able to influence people to get working papers for him and his entire family (Szpilman 92). Unfortunately, this small influence and attempt on his part changed nothing. The work papers were not enough to deter the other members of the Szpilman Family from being sent to their deaths. Szpilman’s only definitive choice was to constantly remain in Warsaw. At the start of German’s war with Poland when the city was being evacuate citizens were moving to the far side of the neighboring Vistula river. This section of chapter two is the first prominent point where we as readers see him choosing to stay put. This is a theme that continues for the entire work. It is Szpilman’s individual rebellion against the approaching onslaught of German terror.

    This patriotism is felt by the entire family (except Wladyslaw’s father). This is probably the reason why later in the book Szpilman continues to remain in Warsaw. In chapter nine, “The Umschlagplatz” the family is split up. As they are herded toward the train to one of the “resettlement” camps Szpilman is grabbed and thrown out of the cordoned off station. He felt it would’ve been worse to be separated from his family, until he realized the trains were headed to death camps. When faced with that reality he turned his back from what he could not change, and choose to continue living.

    Even when faced with the SS Officer in chapter 18, he asserts “Do what you like to me. I’m not moving from here.” (Szpilman 177). This constant act of defiance in a game where the hands are stacked against him, Szpilman continues to stay where he is. Warsaw might have been turned to hell for those trapped inside the ghetto, but it was Szpilman’s home, and the only way he could survive when the entire city was surrounded and actively looking for Jews. At any point, he could have chosen to leave the city, but it would’ve ended in certain death. Wladyslaw Szpilman’s miraculous survival in the height of German occupied Warsaw was taken almost completely out of his own control. The strange mixture of situations in which he had no control, in which he attempted to influence the situation, and the rare moments where he was able to control his own fate, all amassed into the perfect storm for an impossible survival.

    Works Cited

    Szpilman, Wladyslaw. The Pianist: The Extraoridnary True Story of One Man ‘s Survival in Warsaw, 1939-1945. New York: Picador, 1999. Print.

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