The Pianist is the riveting account of Wladyslaw Szpilman, a Polish composer and musician. He played piano for Poland’s national radio network until Hitler’s invasion in 1939. When Warsaw was being bombed by the Germans, the manager and sound engineers hurriedly shut down the station and fled. Despite the fact that they were off the air, Szpilman kept playing and refused to stop until he was literally blown off his stool.
Life in occupied Warsaw was difficult for Szpilman and the rest of the Jews as numerous restrictions were placed upon them. They were allowed to possess only a very small amount of cash, they were barred from many public places, they had to walk in the gutter rather than on the sidewalk, and they had to wear arm bands identifying themselves as Jews. Their hardships escalated the following year as the entire Jewish population of the city was relocated to the “Jewish District,” which became known as the Warsaw Ghetto. After all of the Jews were relocated, a wall was built that separated them from the rest of the people in the city.
Life in the ghetto was little more than a bleak existence that bordered upon and sometimes crossed over into death. Hunger and sickness were constants. There were regular, indiscriminate executions by the SS. Despair was everywhere. The passive resigned themselves to their fate while the more desperate became part of a growing resistance movement. Szpilman was separated from his family and ended up in a work crew. His family was loaded into a boxcar and shipped to a death camp. Szpilman escaped from the work crew and with the help of the resistance, he was moved from one safe house to the next. In one of these apartments there was a piano. He was tempted to play (and blow his cover), but he satisfied himself to open the keyboard and mimic playing as the music ran through his mind.
By 1944, the Germans’ hold on the city was slipping as the Russians were just outside of Warsaw. Most of the city lay in ruins. Szpilman had lost contact with the resistance and taken refuge in attic of a building. To his misfortune, a detachment of Germans made the building their temporary headquarters. One of the officers discovered Szpilman in the attic. He asked him what he does and he told them he was a pianist. There was a piano in the building and he told him to play and he complied. Satisfied, the officer not only spared his life but brought food to him. Soon after, the Germans vacated the building, the Russians took over the city, and Szpliman’s harrowing ordeal was at last over.
At the radio station, at the safe house, at a deserted hospital, under the scrutiny of a German officer, the movie makes it clear that Szpilman stayed true to his calling and played his music (even when he was only pretending to be playing). When the war was over, he returned to the radio station and began playing the same piece of music (Chopin’s Nocturne), that he was playing six years before when the station went off the air. Music not only sustained his life but in the end, it saved his life.
Is there no lesson here for the people of God? Down through the centuries the church has known the approval of the world as well as its disapproval. It has received praise as well as persecution. These will come and go, but what cannot change is the song we have to sing. It is the melody that reverberated through the catacombs, sounded off of prison walls, and furnished the final notes for the words of martyrs. William Cowper had it right when he wrote:
There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Emmanuel’s veins;
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains.
Ever since, by faith, I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die.
Wherever life finds you, you need to remember your song. You need to sing it. The world needs to hear it. God is worthy of it.