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The Pianist

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n September 1939, Władysław Szpilman, a Polish-Jewish pianist, plays on radio in Warsaw when the station is bombed during Nazi Germany's invasion of Poland at the outbreak of World War II. Hoping for a quick victory, Szpilman rejoices with family at home when learning that Britain and France have declared war on Germany. But Germany defeats Poland quickly and its troops enter Warsaw, where life for Jews deteriorates as the Nazi authorities prevent them from working or owning businesses and force them to wear blue Star of David armbands.

By November 1940, Szpilman and his family have been forced from their home into the overcrowded Warsaw Ghetto where conditions only get worse. People starve, the guards are brutal and corpses are left in the streets. On one occasion, the Szpilmans witness the SS kill an entire family during a łapanka (raid) in an apartment across the street.

On 16 August 1942 the family are deported to Treblinka extermination camp, but Wladyslaw survives at the Umschlagplatz due to an intervention from a friend in the Jewish Ghetto Police. Szpilman becomes a slave labourer and learns of a coming Jewish revolt. He helps by smuggling weapons into the ghetto, narrowly avoiding a suspicious guard. He then manages to escape and goes into hiding with help from non-Jewish friend Andrzej Bogucki and his wife Janina.

In April 1943 Szpilman observes from his window the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising that he aided and its ultimate failure. After a neighbor discovers him hiding, Szpilman is forced to flee and is provided with a second hiding place. He is shown into a room with a piano yet is compelled to keep quiet while beginning to suffer from jaundice.

In August 1944, the Polish resistance attack a German building across the street from Szpilman's hideout during the Warsaw Uprising. A tank shells his apartment, forcing him to escape and hide elsewhere. Over the course of the next months, the city is destroyed and abandoned, leaving Szpilman alone to search desperately for shelter and supplies among the ruins. He eventually makes his way to an abandoned home where he finds a can of pickles. While trying to open it he is discovered by the Wehrmacht officer Wilm Hosenfeld, who learns that Szpilman is a pianist and asks him to play on a grand piano in the house. The decrepit Szpilman plays Chopin's Ballade in G minor, which moves Hosenfeld enough to allow Szpilman to hide in the attic of the empty house where the German Captain regularly brings him food.

In January 1945, the Germans are forced to retreat due to the advance of the Red Army. Hosenfeld meets Szpilman for the last time and promises he will listen to him on Polish Radio after the war. He gives Szpilman his greatcoat to keep warm and leaves. However this has almost fatal consequences for Szpilman when he is mistaken for a German officer and shot at by Polish troops liberating Warsaw, who then apprehend and save him. In Spring 1945, former inmates of a Nazi concentration camp pass a Soviet prisoner-of-war camp holding captured German soldiers and verbally abuse them. Hosenfeld, among those captured, overhears a released inmate lament over his former career as a violinist. He asks the violinist if he knows Szpilman, which the violinist confirms. Hosenfeld wishes for Szpilman to return the favor and help release him. Sometime later, the violinist is able to bring Szpilman back to the site but they find it has been long abandoned.

Later, Szpilman performs Chopin's Grand Polonaise brillante to a large and prestigious audience. An epilogue states that Szpilman died at the age of 88 in the year 2000 while Hosenfeld died in Soviet captivity in 1952.