Real-life ‘Pianist’ possessions up for auction

The renowned musician came to the world’s attention in Roman Polanski’s film based on Szpilman’s autobiography

By   |  Published: 19th Sep 2020  3:45 pm

Warsaw: A fountain pen, silver pocket watch and other prized possessions of the late Jewish-Polish composer Wladyslaw Szpilman, the real-life hero of the Oscar-winning film “The Pianist,” go under the hammer in Warsaw next week.

“This watch and pen that he bought on a trip to Paris in 1937 survived his whole stay in the Jewish ghetto, then kept him company in the ruins of Warsaw,” said Szpilman’s son Andrzej, who is organising the auction with his brother Krzysztof.

The renowned musician, who died in 2000, came to the world’s attention in Roman Polanski’s film based on Szpilman’s autobiography — available in some 40 languages.

The black Montblanc Meisterstuck pen, the pocket watch and a tie that is now part of the collection at the Polin Museum of the History of Polish Jews are the only Szpilman possessions to have survived the war. Like every Jewish resident of the Polish capital, the pianist and his family were forced into the Warsaw Ghetto established by the Nazis in 1940. He made ends meet by playing the piano at whatever cafes remained open.

In 1942, his relatives were sent to their deaths at the Treblinka extermination camp, but Szpilman was spared after a Jewish police officer recognised him from a concert and pulled him from the transport line at the last minute.

Szpilman managed to escape the ghetto the following year, just before the Germans liquidated and abolished the Jewish district. He survived the rest of the war, thanks to the help of friends, by going from hideout to hideout, until he ended up at an empty apartment, totally cut off from the outside world.

“The watch, an Omega, held special significance for my father,” Andrzej Szpilman told source. For Polin’s chief curator Renata Piatkowska, the items up for auction not only tell “the story of his life, survival, miraculous rescue from the Holocaust” but also “the story of a whole people.”