What Happened to Wladyslaw Szpilman’s Family?

Wladyslaw Szpilman’s family was forced to live in the Warsaw ghetto and was eventually sent by train to a concentration camp, where they were killed. Szpilman, a famous Polish pianist, was pulled aside from the crowd and did not board the train. Instead, he hid in Warsaw until the end of World War II and went on to become the director of the Polish Radio’s Music Department.

Before the war, Szpilman was Polish Radio’s official pianist. But because they were Jewish, Szpilman and his father, mother, two sisters and brother were forced to leave their home and live in the ghetto. To keep his family alive, Szpilman chose to play the piano at Café Nowaczesna, which was frequented by Nazis and their sympathizers. Szpilman worked hard to keep his family safe when the large-scale deportations began in 1942. He saw members of his extended family as well as friends sent off to concentration camps, but through his bravery was able to keep his immediate family together for a little while longer. They were eventually sent to their deaths in Treblinka, but a friend of Szpilman, Itzchak Heller, managed to keep him from boarding the train.

Szpilman’s courage and the tragedy of his family were memorialized in the 2002 film “The Pianist,” directed by Roman Polanski.