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Pianist, The - DEATH OF WARSAW

By the time German invaders had finished their devastating attacks on Warsaw, they had destroyed 85-90% of the Polish city. This image depicts a photo of Old Town’s marketplace, as it still appeared in 1945. Although the photographer is unknown, the image is from Marek Tuszyński's collection of WWII prints and was printed by Wojskowa Agencja Fotograficzna (from record 2012/1501-31). image online via Wikimedia Commons.

 

When Himmler ordered the ghetto destroyed, Wladyslaw was existing outside the Jewish Quarter. With the help of Polish people, he continued to survive. These individuals, who risked their lives not just for Szpilman but also for many others, include:

  • Czeslaw Lewicki
  • Helena Lewicka
  • Janina and Andrzej Boguccy
  • Irena Sendler
  • Witold Lutoslawski
  • Eugenia Uminska
  • Edmund Rudnicki

Sometimes German troops searched the building where Szpilman was living, but they always stopped short of his hiding place.

It wasn’t just Jewish people who suffered in Poland. The country itself endured the worst wartime occupation conditions in modern European history.

For five years Poles lived under Hitler’s control. A brutal Nazi colonial government (whose expressed goal was to forever erase the concept of a Polish nation in favor of an expanding German empire) was in charge of western Poland (which Hitler had annexed).

Essentially reduced to slave status, all Poles, including children, lived under severe restrictions enforced with savage punishment. About a million of them were uprooted from their homes and land as German settlers moved in to take their place. Another 2.5 million Poles were sent to forced labor camps in Germany.

As the main center of European Jewry, Polish soil was turned into the most notorious of the Nazi killing grounds. Several of the worst death camps (including Auschwitz, Treblinka and Majdanek) were in Poland. Between 1939-1945 about six million people, or 15% of Poland’s population, perished under the Nazi occupation. Roughly half were Jews.

In the summer of 1944—as the tide of war turned against Hitler and German soldiers passed through Warsaw as they returned from the Russian front—the Polish Home Army (Armia Krajowa) rebelled. The focus of their attacks were the German garrisons in Warsaw. The insurgents held their best position in the city on August 5.

The Poles thought they would have help from the Soviet Union. But when the Red Army halted its advance just short of Warsaw (on Stalin’s orders), the Poles could not maintain their uprising. By the first of September, Old Town had fallen.

After sixty-three days of intense fighting, their rebellion was crushed. A furious Hitler ordered his troops to demolish Warsaw before they retreated. Ninety percent of the city (beautifully depicted here in 1770) was decimated.

During the disastrous fight for Warsaw, Szpilman managed to stay alive. He watched his beloved Warsaw reduced to ruins.

It was, he said, like “seeing the life-blood flow from the body of a murdered man.” (The Pianist, page 166.)

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5183stories and lessons created

Original Release: Jan 01, 2003

Updated Last Revision: Jul 01, 2019


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