Over the subsequent weeks, the German officer regularly brought bread to the Jewish musician, and news from the Front.Finally, in December 1944, he left him with the words: "The war will be over by spring at the latest." As Szpilman tells it now, the story sounds like a coincidence, a once-in-a-life-time piece of luck.Szpilman, who died three years ago, was an artist of sterling pedigree, which all but guarantees his recordings won't be a redux of the David Helfgott-style compromised pianism heard in the wake of the 1996 film Shine.
When he saw me, he asked me what on earth was I doing there ... I couldn't say that I was Jewish, that I was hiding, that I had been in these ruins for months.
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.
The real-life Wladyslaw Szpilman, whose memoir was the basis of the film, didn't play that way.
Even before hearing the two Szpilman discs that have hit the market amid the two-Oscar success of The Pianist, seasoned music lovers could have predicted that.