The widow and son of Wladyslaw Szpilman, the Polish Jewish composer immortalised in the Oscar winning film The Pianist, have taken the author of a book alleging Szpilman collaborated with the Gestapo to court.
Halina Szpilman Grzecznarowska and Andrzej Szpilman want the Warsaw regional court to force an apology from Agata Tuszynska for the accusations carried in her biography of Wiera Gran, a Jewish singer who knew Szpilman in the Warsaw ghetto.
In Roman Polanski’s 2002 film, based on Szpilman’s own account, the composer survives the liquidation of the ghetto and the war thanks in part to the intervention of a Captain Wilhelm Hosenfeld, a compassionate German army officer appalled by his country’s treatment of the Jews. Despite the dangers the German befriended the starving Szpilman, giving him food, clothes and shelter.
But in her biography, titled “The Accused: Wiera Gran”, the singer alleged Szpilman worked for the Jewish police in the ghetto, helping to organise the transport of thousands of Jews to the Treblinka death camp.
The Szpilmans claim the accusations have tarnished the composer’s name and thus warrant an apology.
“My father was never a policeman in the ghetto,” Andrzej Szpilman told the court. “These fantasies of a sick woman were presented as fact by the media.” Mr Szpilman added that Gran’s accusations may have been born out of a festering jealousy and bitterness she had for his father because she herself had never managed to escape from allegations of collaboration.
Such was the strength of the allegations that Gran was forced to leave Israel, where she had moved after the war, and settle in France. While the smear of collaborator haunted Gran till her death in 2007, Szpilman enjoyed a successful musical career in post-war Poland, and in 1998, just two years before his death, his account of his remarkable survival, also called The Pianist, brought him international recognition.
The Szpilmans’ lawyers also produced documents showing that the name of Wladyslaw Szpilman was never recorded as a ghetto policeman, and that no ghetto survivors other than Gran ever accused him of collaboration.
But the author has stood by her book.
“I wrote about Gran and quoted her on what she had to say about Szpilman,” said Ms Tuszynska. “Should I have changed what she said? I was not in the ghetto where everything happened and nor was Andrzej Szpilman.” She added that her book explained that there was never any evidence to support the accusations, and that when she made them Gran was an old and frail woman.