Playing at Survival in Warsaw

An interview with Wladyslaw Szpilman, musician, writer, and survivor.

He lives in a neat, narrow house with a small, well-kept garden. Inside his sitting room there are shelves of old books, a Biedermeier secretaire, a polished parquet floor. Black and white photographs of old friends stand in rows on the piano; prints and framed mementoes hang from the white walls. At first glance, everything about Wladyslaw Szpilman speaks of a certain kind of Central European comfort, of a pleasantly uneventful, bourgeois life. Continue reading “Playing at Survival in Warsaw”

I Was Booked on Flight 103

A meditation on Lockerbie, accidents, and fear of flying.

I cannot remember a time when I did not fly on airplanes, and for years and years, I flew without anxiety. Later, after the Lockerbie crash, when I developed serious fear of flying not the odd tremor during turbulence, but the real thing – this previous experience with airplanes helped me to keep it concealed. Continue reading “I Was Booked on Flight 103”

The Three Lives of Helena Brus

A Polish Communist, resident in Britain, was accused of Stalinist-era war crimes. Her extradition became a matter for British justice.

To the citizens of safe, happy countries which have never known war and occupation, the lives of ordinary people in less safe, less happy countries can seem extraordinary indeed. Here, for example, are three scenes, three moments in the life of a Polish woman, born in 1919. Continue reading “The Three Lives of Helena Brus”

State of Tolerance

To the purist, the Christmases of my childhood would no doubt seem anathema. We didn’t go to midnight Mass, and we didn’t pray. We didn’t have a creche, we didn’t have an Advent calendar, and we didn’t think much about the birth of Christ either. Continue reading “State of Tolerance”

A Dearth of Feeling

An essay about the absence of memory of communist crimes.

  • This essay was also reproduced in the anthology The Future of The European Past, ed. Roger Kimball and Hilton Kramer, Ivan R. Dee, Chicago, 1997.

Venice has the Piazza San Marco, Paris has the Eiffel Tower, and now Prague has the Charles Bridge: wide and pedestrianised, blackened with age – and suffused with the spirit of capitalism. There are buskers and hustlers along the bridge, and, every fifteen feet or so, someone is selling very much what one would expect to find for sale in such a postcard-perfect spot. Continue reading “A Dearth of Feeling”