Władysław Szpilman, born in December 1911 in Poland, was a pianist and classical composer with a Jewish background. The life of Szpilman, as well as the events that unraveled while he was trying to survive the Second World War, were used as an inspiration for his memoirs and later on, for The Pianist.
Szpilman began his piano studies at the Chopin Academy of Music in Warsaw though later on, continued his studies in Berlin at the prestigious Academy of Arts. Once Hitler was appointed Chancellor of Germany, Szpilman returned to Warsaw.
He started working at the Polish Radio in 1935 both as a pianist and as a soloist. When the German invasion in 1939 took place, he was a popular figure in Poland, something that eventually saved his life when a friend recognized him and pulled him out of the line for the Treblinka train.
Spending two years in hiding, the Nazi officer Hosenfeld helped him survive the last days of the WWII. None of his other family members survived WWII.
At the time of the bombing, the radio was broadcasting live his performance of Chopin’s Nocturne in C sharp minor. Once he took his job back at the radio after the war, he opened the first transmission by once again playing the same composition.
Szpilman had a rather prolific career and managed to live a long and happy life – he died aged 88 in Warsaw. His family keeps contact with Wilm Hosenfeld’s daughter, who has attended events in his honor.
Nowadays, he’s remembered as someone who largely influenced and shaped modern Polish music. In 2011, the Polish Radio’s Studio 1 was renamed Władysław Szpilman in his honor.