In fact, it is merely one episode in an extraordinary story of survival, recently published in English as The Pianist.Wladyslaw Szpilman, already a famous musician and composer when the war broke out - Poles of a certain generation still know the words to his popular songs - was rescued not only by a German but by a Jewish policeman, who pulled him out of a queue of people boarding trains for Treblinka; by his talent, which kept him alive in the starving Warsaw Ghetto; and by, in his own estimate, no less than 20 Poles who smuggled him out of the Ghetto and then hid him in their flats, knowing that they and their families could be sentenced to death for helping a Jew.
30, 2003 London - 3rd May 2000 - The judges of the annual Jewish Quarterly-Wingate Literary Prizes tonight awarded this year's Non Fiction Prize to Wladyslaw Szpilman for The Pianist (Phoenix / Golancz).
At first glance, everything about Wladyslaw Szpilman speaks of a certain kind of Central European comfort, of a pleasantly uneventful, bourgeois life.
Dressed in a tweed jacket and tie, speaking of popular music and songs, Szpilman himself initially gives off the air of someone who has lived all of his 87 years in civilised surroundings. The German found me when I was in the ruins of someone's kitchen, looking for food.
His whole family was dead, his city was in ruins, and yet, against all possible odds, he remained alive.
Both the book, and the man himself, are also devoid of any desire for vengeance.