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In fact, it is merely one episode in an extraordinary story of survival, recently published in English as The Pianist.Wladyslaw Szpilman, already a famous musician and composer when the war broke out - Poles of a certain generation still know the words to his popular songs - was rescued not only by a German but by a Jewish policeman, who pulled him out of a queue of people boarding trains for Treblinka; by his talent, which kept him alive in the starving Warsaw Ghetto; and by, in his own estimate, no less than 20 Poles who smuggled him out of the Ghetto and then hid him in their flats, knowing that they and their families could be sentenced to death for helping a Jew.

I told him that this was my old flat, that I had come back to see what was left ..." So begins Szpilman's account of how, in the final weeks of the Second World War, having escaped the Warsaw Getto and survived months of hiding, he was rescued by a German: Captain Wilm Hosenfeld discovered him, ascertained that he was a pianist - to convince him, Szpilman played Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor on a battered, out-of-tune piano - and without much further ado found him a better hiding place.

"He noticed something I had not seen: that just beneath the roof there was a tiny attic ..." Together, they made sure Szpilman could climb into it, and pull up the ladder afterwards.

Performances conceived, delivered and heard during a state of crisis, or in its aftermath, can be hugely different from those that are not.

Szpilman's fellow musicians - whatever side they were on during the war - changed so much over the 1940s and after that the great masterpieces they performed seemed to rewrite themselves. How the current war will change what we hear remains to be, well, heard.

The decision was announced by author and broadcaster Frank Delaney, chairman of the judges, who had selected it earlier this evening from a shortlists of four titles: "When you read this book - and you must read it - you will never forget it.

The subtext asks whether good people were on the side of the evil people and shows how the human spirit is enlarged by the knowledge of such people."e lives in a neat, narrow house with a small, well-kept garden.

His whole family was dead, his city was in ruins, and yet, against all possible odds, he remained alive.

Both the book, and the man himself, are also devoid of any desire for vengeance.

Nearly identical in their selection of works, the two discs differ mainly in Sony's inclusion of a CD-ROM video feature of the aging Szpilman playing Chopin's Nocturne in C sharp minor in 1980. The dignity of the pianist's manner has infinitely more impact if you know that this is the piece he was playing when Polish Radio was destroyed by the Nazis and that he returned to five years later, after the Nazis had been destroyed.

Without asking for the slightest bit of sympathy, he was recreating a moment that was emblematic for his country and all Jewish survivors of World War II.

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