The Pianist: A Historically Accurate Depiction of the Holocaust
The Pianist, created in 2002, is a war film combining drama and music based on the real life story of Władysław Szpilman. Szpilman was a Polish Jewish pianist who, due to Nazi Germany’s occupation of Poland, had to hide in order to survive. The Pianist is an exceptionally accurate film because the film correctly depicts the German occupation of Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto, and the reality of daily life during World War II. The film’s accuracy is partially attributable to the fact that the film correctly represents the era depicted, which is the period during which Germany occupied Poland. The Pianist is historically accurate, and flawlessly depicts the reality of living during World War II. The film is set in a time when Germany conquered Poland and subjected the Polish people to Nazi rule. The Nazis passed laws that would help Hitler accomplish his desire to exterminate all Jewish people. These laws included laws requiring that Jewish people wear badges around their arms with the star of David to identify them, laws that reduced Jewish people’s incomes, and more. While Germany occupied Poland, the Nazis murdered almost three million Jewish people and attempted to annihilate Polish culture (“Germans”).
The film displays how Polish Jewish people were affected by Nazi rule at the time of German occupation, for instance at the beginning of the movie Szpilman is not allowed to enter a coffee shop after he reads a sign that states “Żydom Wstęp Wzbroniony” which translates to “No Jews. ” Dorota, Szpilman’s friend, suggests that they go to a park, but Szpilman explains that Jewish people are not allowed in the park as well. According to Eve Nussbaum Soumerai and Carol D. Schulz, authors of The Holocaust, these signs were common at the time. “In addition, taunting signs could be found everywhere: JEWS NOT WELCOME, JEWS ENTER THIS TOWN AT THEIR OWN RISK” (58). As mentioned before, the film did an excellent job of portraying life during German occupation, and it also did an amazing job at showing the beginning and end of German occupation. At the beginning of the movie, Szpilman is shown working at a radio station as a Pianist, and wearing a nice suit. Later in the scene, a bomb goes off, which signifies Germany entering into Poland and establishing their control. In reality, Germany did in fact bomb Warsaw during the invasion: “at 6 am on 1 September Warsaw was struck by the first of a succession of bombing raids” (“History”).
The filmmakers decided to start the film this way because they wanted to give context to the viewers as to what time period the movie takes place in, and who the main character is. The film shows the end of German control in Poland, when Germany had been defeated by the Allies and several Nazi soldiers had been put in Soviet Prisoner-of-War Camps. To bring the story of the movie full circle, the filmmakers decided to end the movie with Szpilman playing the piano, to signify that the German occupation, as well as the laws that discriminated against Jewish people, were now over. The film should be added into school curriculum as it is such an accurate representation of that era. The film discusses the alliance between France, Britain, and Poland, which has been previously reviewed in class. The Pianist can improve our understanding of modern world history because of how correctly that era is depicted in the film. The Pianist also accurately depicts the Warsaw Ghetto. The Warsaw Ghetto was an area surrounded by a brick wall, which was guarded by armed men. Inside the walls of the ghetto were approximately 400,000 Polish Jewish people (“Warsaw”).
Residents of the ghetto were often murdered, ill, and according to Eve Nussbaum Soumerai and Carol D. Schulz, authors of the book The Holocaust, “the biggest problem for the inhabitants of the ghettos was hunger” (92). Hunger was a huge problem for people living in the ghetto because there was a shortage of food, and because of the price of the food. The price of the food was very high compared to the wages of workers living in the ghetto, which was 20 to 35 zloty (Polish currency) per day, while some foods cost as much as 35 zloty (Nussbaum Soumerai and Schulz, 93). The film does a superb job at portraying the limited food supply in the ghetto. For instance, in one scene, a man is attempting to steal soup from a woman. The soup falls onto the ground, and spills everywhere, and the man decides to eat it off of the ground. The woman begins to weep, as the soup was likely the only food she had, and also likely very expensive. Later on in the movie and in reality, the Germans planned to eliminate the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as everyone inside of it. The Jewish resistance to the Nazi’s is known as the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, which unfortunately ended with 7,000 Polish Jewish people dead (“Warsaw”).
The film shows that after the uprising the ghetto was destroyed, and Germany ended the Jewish resistance. The Pianist also accurately shows the daily lives of Polish people during World War II. The film displays World War II in Warsaw during German occupation as perilous, and tough to survive. According to an article titled “Everyday life in occupied Poland,” “In order to survive, it was necessary to violate the imposed German laws, and risk the possibility of being killed or sent to a concentration camp” (“Everyday”). The Pianist was able to portray the high risk of death in Warsaw, because Szpilman was often on the search for places to hide in order to survive. The movie also displays how the war caused many people to live in fear of their own demise. There is a scene in the film where the Nazis and a German tank open fire at the apartment Szpilman is hiding in. Szpilman shakes in fear as he escapes, and runs to the top floor of the building. When he got to the top of the building he climbed onto the roof to hide from German soldiers investigating the building. In reality, these German war tactics did do great damage; according to a Polish lieutenant who witnessed the attacks, “the extent of the death, destruction and disorganization this combined fire caused in three short hours was incredible. By the time our wits were sufficiently collected even to survey the situation, it was apparent that we were in no position to offer any serious resistance” (“Historical”). The strategy that Germany used titled “blitzkrieg” was created in order to shock and scare the enemy, and it was very effective. Because of “blitzkrieg” enemies of Germany planned evacuation in schools in case Germany began to attack them. In conclusion, The Pianist accurately depicts the Invasion of Poland, the Warsaw Ghetto, as well as daily life of Polish people and the reality of living during World War II. Critics would agree with this analysis, as the film received critical acclaim. Critics enjoyed the film’s accuracy and the acting.
Many critics also praised Roman Polanski, the director of The Pianist and a survivor of the Holocaust, for his directing. Desson Howe, writer for the Washington Post, writes, “Polanski, himself a survivor of Nazi-occupied Poland, has created a near-masterpiece” (“Polanski’s”). There were no actual, historical events changed in the storyline, because Roman Polanski, being a survivor of the Holocaust, likely wanted to remain as truthful as possible to such an emotional and real story. The filmmakers did want to appeal to the viewers’ reason and emotion, but they avoided over exaggerating the storyline and inaccurately depicting World War II.
Because of the historical accuracy, nothing about the film needs to be changed, however, a depiction of another perspective would be ideal, as it would allow viewers to gain an overall better understanding of World War II. If the filmmakers did decide to tell the story in a different perspective, for example a Christian, the movie would be altered entirely. The movie would be altered because Christians were apart of Hitler’s idea of a righteous person, therefore the movie would tell a story from someone who was not oppressed because of their religion.
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