So much better than the movie, Szpilman's account of survival is harrowing in an unadorned fashion that seems almost detached, and is all the more horrible for it. Polanski's film version is pretty faithful to the text, perhaps with the exception of some of the chronology, so what I found most enlightening was how Szpilman filled in his days between the major events illustrated by the film. Taking care of your sanity in a most insane time under strict isolation seems almost impossible, and there are moments in Szpilman's narration that make you genuinely believe in divine intervention. There seems no other way to explain how this man survived six years of random, and exhaustive, persecution that reduced a population of 3.3 million to about 300,000. The odds were stacked monumentally against him, especially as an intellectual. I expected to see the influence of music a lot more in the man's personal account, and other than explanations of events he played and acquaintances found very little.
The strength of this Holocaust memoir is in it's ability to fill in the blanks. Most accounts of a popular nature, such as Wiesel's Night
focus on life in the concentration camps, but Szpilman's account shows just how horrible life was outside of those nightmares. He also adds an element of confusion and chaos to the image of the precise, methodical and mechanical Nazi killing regime by painting a more diverse and random picture of the characters involved in it's prosecution. Among the evil are not just Aryan SS men, but Ukrainians and Poles, and among the saviors are not just noble Poles but Wehrmacht officers.
The most touching, and sad portion of the book seemed to be the diary of Wilm Hosenfeld, carefully edited and selected to illustrate another perspective of the events narrated by Szpilman. Hosenfeld's story is one of true tragedy as well and adds to the pathos of the tale.
A must read for humanity in general and scholars specifically.