I am Szpilman…

The Pianist is a movie that tells the disheartening story of a Jewish pianist who struggles to survive during the holocaust along with his family in Warsaw. Although it is primarily the story of one man, the movie tremendously inculcated in me the notion of the universality of the human suffering. He is Jewish, and that is all which makes me reflect on it. How I felt? I cannot really remember, but certainly an avalanche of conflicting feelings surged through my chest and thoughts of every possible indictment to be directed toward a Muslim declaring himself to be Jewish for brief moments; thoughts of the like invaded my mind as the movie drew near its end: a shabby racked Władysław Szpilman adeptly runs his feeble fingers over an abandoned piano playing before a Nazi officer who rescues his life later. I desperately wanted Szpilman to survive. For a moment, I was Jewish.

Szpilman’s father walks down the street when he has to pass by two Nazi officers who just harass him, punch him, and ward him off the pavement. There is nothing that would have given me more pain than such unfeeling harassment. For a moment, I was Szpilman’s father. I knew how it felt to be treated with disgust. To be humiliated. To be discriminated against as such. And later, the Jewish population of Warsaw are herded to be taken off the city and put in a concentration camp. Szpilman’s family has to wait amidst dirt and rubble having not the least slice of bread to eat. A Jewish woman carrying her baby comes over  awfully begging Szpilman for a drop of water for her child. Mournfully, he looks at her, apologizes and goes off. For a moment, I was Jewish. I recalled when an old woman has to sit on the rubble, her sick baby on her lab, waiting at a checkpoint for an entry access to get through. My mind wandered to where I passed through the debris of one area thoroughly razed to the ground on the wake of last war; distress was everything I could see wherever I cast my looks. Afflicted people were everywhere around me, and, not looking back, I only walked on.

When his family sits around the table, shocked by the callousness of their enemy, and conversing over the last Nazi edict to wear a badge of the Star of David, Szpilman’s sister calmly declares, “I refuse to be branded.” Though calm, so powerful it was. It echoed in my ear time and again. There is nothing that could have given me more fervor than that. I knew what it meant to be branded, to be called  “dirty Arab”, or thought of as “slum dog”. I will teach my sister how to stand against whoever tries to brand her. I will teach her how to say I-refuse-to-be-branded with such calmness.

The wall is erected, and the city is divided. Behind the wall are the Nazis, and, inside the ghetto, I live. That truly rings a bell. To be segregated is so painful, but to be segregated and taken away from your beloved people makes it doubly painful. I fought within myself whether to hate the Nazis for treating Jews with such cold inhumanity, or for putting this wall strategy before the world, for teaching some of them how to make the worst punishment of your prey. The war is waged, and the ghetto is bombed. The Jews fight from inside the ghetto while a Cast Lead is mercilessly poured down upon the Jews. they fight the war alone and murdered by dozens. The war between those who have the most deadly war machine fighting freely from every possible direction and the besieged whose chief concern is to have something at their supper is a war I would live with all my sensations, and side with the bombed, suppressed, and murdered, for I knew how their blood smells, no matter Jewish they were or Hindus…

I could think of Szpilman’s father as none, but an old Palestinian man abused by two Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint, and his mother as but a Palestinian woman destined to bear the suffrage of losing her two sons, and his sister as but mine harassed and mocked. I do not know whether Szpilman turned into Zionism later or not, and I do not even bother to know. I was him for a moment: the moment he and his family were done injustice very similar to that which is done to me and my people at the hands of some with whom I once sympathized. We would have made great friends had we lived at one time, but that is unthinkable. One just led to the other. Things are mixed, but everything is similar. I only lived through the two holocausts. I struggled to detach myself from the ongoing reality, but failed. One holocaust is bygone, and another is. I’d better feel sorry for myself and my people.

Mohammed Rabah Suliman

29th November


11 responses to “I am Szpilman…

  1. Pingback: تجمع المدونين الفلسطينيين

  2. That’s phenomenal!

    I was reading an article about the holocaust the other day. And for a moment, I felt sorry for them. Then, and for like 3 days, I kept rebuking myself for having those feelings. I felt so guilty.

    Thanks for writing this. You made me feel much better.

    • You shouldn’t have rebuked yourself. The holocaust was horrifying. There are a lot of Jewish people across the globe who are carrying your issue in their hearts.

  3. “I’d better feel sorry for myself and my people.”

    you said it all.

    Good job.

  4. I would like to bring to the attention ot his author that Szpilman did not become “Zionist” rather, he remained in Poland until the day that he died. The author may not have been able to discern that the movie is, indirectly, a movie which is anti-Zionist because the protagonist survives not because he is strong and tough but rather because his structural traits are artistic, sensitive, and musical.
    Szpilman survives the war because he is a Pianist and as such, this vocation and his talent protected him. Also, he is assisted by Jews and non-Jews alike. This story directly contradicts the Zionist narrative that Jews can only depend on other Jews for survival, as good people are good people, and not all of the Jews are depicted as “good” in the film, either. It is also a movie of how creative people, musicians in this instance, can be more humanistic.
    Most importantly, the film demonstrates that “survival” in such a situation was often the result of random and arbitrary circumstances and events. Had he remained in the Warsaw Ghetto, he would have been killed in the uprising, by arbitrary circumstance, Szpilman watched it from outside and didn’t even think that it had any value. They all killed themselves as far as he was concerned. There is that other scene where his whole family is on the line to go to the train which will take them to the death camps and their death. Then his collaborator friend on the guard line says to him, “run, I am saving your life now..” This was also an arbitrary event.

  5. Thank you so much for this beautiful and moving and true piece. Some of us have learned the lessons of the Warsaw Ghetto and stand in solidarity with you.

  6. I like. I love. And I had the exact same feelings when, several years ago, I watched it when we were studying WWII at school.

    Human misery knows no color, no race, no religion. So does humanity.

    Allah ye7rosak w ye7meek a5i Mohammad.

  7. Pingback: تجمع المدونين الفلسطينيين

  8. Like I said before, the guy has you thirds of your name. coincidence ha?

  9. Well, it was you who drew my attention to this, so I guess yes, it’s a coincidence.

  10. I think that the better way to achieve peace between our peoples is that of understanding each other’s realities, sufferings, and wishes. When I read this article’s title I thought I might find with a bunch of Holocaust denying “arguments” or even justifications to kill Jews in masse; I’m glad I was wrong, I’m glad my prejudice was debunked, and I’m glad I could find some sympathy from my Arab cousins. It doesn’t help to get peace when Arabs say the Holocaust didn’t happen. It doesn’t help to get peace when Jews deny Palestinian suffering. If both of our peoples (not the governments…) could just sit around a table and talk, all this tragic tale could change. I hope one day it does.
    Shalom.

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