Władysław Szpilman’s prestigious Grotrian-Steinweg piano just one of the items under the hammer at ‘The Pianist’ auction
The personal effects of Władysław Szpilman, the protagonist of Roman Polanski’s Oscar-winning film, The Pianist, will go under the hammer later this month in an auction set to attract global interest.
An accomplished classical musician and composer, Szpilman had carved a successful career for himself performing for Polskie Radio before the course of his life was indelibly altered by the Nazi German occupation of Poland.
While the rest of his family perished during the Holocaust, Szpilman survived using both his wits and his numerous contacts in the world outside the Warsaw Ghetto.
Famously, when a benign German officer by the name of Wilm Hosenfeld discovered his hiding place towards the end of the war, the Polish pianist performed Chopin’s Nocturne in C-sharp minor for him. In this brief moment, with Warsaw burning around them, a bond was forged between the two that the musician ultimately credited with his eventual survival.
Having provided Szpilman with supplies and clothing, Hosenfeld – who, it later transpired, had helped numerous Poles throughout the war – was to later disappear forever in Soviet captivity. Szpilman, on the other hand, was able to resume his life as a pianist in the post-war years.
Originally titled The Death of a City, his memoir detailing his remarkable wartime story was heavily censored by the Communist authorities, but later became a bestseller after his son, Andrzej, pushed for its republication in the late 1990s.
When Roman Polanski released The Pianist in 2002 – two years after Szpilman’s death – the film became an international smash hit earning multiple awards and permanently inscribing the names Szpilman and Hosenfeld into Holocaust history.
“Thanks to this,” says Julia Materna, the coordinator of the auction, “Szpilman has become one of the most internationally recognizable Poles around.”
Organized by the Warsaw-based Desa Unicum, bidding will take place on September 22nd and represents a watershed moment for the prestigious auction house.
“It’s our first real auction of personal memorabilia,” Materna tells TFN, “and while we’ve auctioned collections before, this is the first time such an auction of ours has been devoted to one specific person of such global renown.”
Set to go on public display tomorrow, the items that will be subject to bidding were provided by Szpilman’s sons, Krzysztof and Andrzej, and include such objects as pipes, bowties, tableware and paintings.
Thought to have been produced in or around 1940, a Steinway & Sons piano that was in Szpilman’s possession from 1945 onwards is set to attract the biggest bids with the guide price set at between 140,000 and 260,000 złotys.
Promising to arouse both personal and institutional interest, other star articles include a 1934 piano composition for Life of the Machines that only survived the war because it was mailed to Argentina, as well as two items that accompanied Szpilman throughout his time in hiding: an art deco Omega watch and a Mont Blanc fountain pen.
“He kept them throughout the war,” says Materna, “and although he must have been tempted to sell them during this period they were a bridge to his past, intellectual life. They were a real memory of the life he had enjoyed before.”
Although many of the objects come with eye-watering price tags attached, others could prove a steal: cufflinks set to start at 700 złotys; a travel chess set from 800 złotys; and a decorative vase from 200 złotys.
Although Wilm Hosenfeld never lived to see Szpilman again, the families of both were to later become friends, and the auction also features an album of 59 photographs taken when the Hosenfelds visited Warsaw in the mid-1980s.
Donated to the Szpilman family in 1997, it comes with a personal, handwritten message: “For Mrs. and Mr. Szpilman, in memory of our unforgettable visit to Warsaw in August, 1984, from Gudrun and Helmut Hosenfeld, 3rd December, 1997.”
“It really is a wide offer,” says Materna, “and we expect it to interest a variety of institutions, musicians, collectors, foreigners, and plenty of Poles of both Jewish and non-Jewish heritage.
“For the family, it’s an important step in promoting Szpilman’s legacy,” she adds. “So many people are familiar with the film, but we’re hopeful that this auction will help the noise around him become even louder.”
For more information visit the Desa Unicum website HERE.