This week I watched The Pianist. It is a fascinating yet violent movie, about a heartbreaking period in history. The movie is based off the autobiography of Wladyslaw Szpilman and tells the story of an amazing Jewish-Polish pianist who lived through the Holocaust. Szpilman was the last person to play live music on the Polish radio before the Nazis invaded Poland. He survived the Warsaw Ghetto and barely escaped being sent to a concentration camp. Towards the end of the war, a German officer, amazed by Szpilman’s musical talent, helped him remain hidden in an attic. He lived through severe hunger, separation from his family and survived one of the most ugly periods of history.
The Holocaust was such a sad event, but it is good to remember the incredible stories of the people who lived through it both those who survived and those who did not. Sometimes I wonder what I would have done if I had lived during the Holocaust. Of course, it’s easy for my generation to say we would never let such a tragedy occur on our watch, but it happened just like genocides in Africa continue to happen today. People lost sight of the importance of human life. Children, the elderly, the wealthy, the poor it didn’t matter who you were if you were Jewish, your life was in danger.
Some of my Dutch ancestors lived in Holland during World War II, and thankfully they were part of the group who helped rescue Jews in their area. Pastor Gerardus Pontier and his wife Dora hid a Jewish family in their home, and Gerardus Pontier was part of an underground network which helped many Jewish children escape during the German occupation.
Gerardus Pontier was eventually arrested by the Gestapo and spent six months in a German prison camp. Thankfully, the Gestapo did not search his home when they arrested him, so the Jews hiding there were not discovered. After the war, he and his wife were recognized in Israel as “Righteous Among the Nations” for the lives they helped save.
I hope that if I am ever in a similar position, I will make the same choices. Life is too precious. History is already too full of people making awful choices. I watch movies like The Pianist because they are such a clear picture of humanity stripped to its core. In the midst of the horror, some people step out and become saviors. Some people risk everything, others take everything. Some people survive the chaos to become an even greater version of themselves, others show just how dark humanity can be. Lessons that are too crucial to be forgotten.