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Agata Tuszyńska's Wiera Gran Book Not Guilty of Defaming 'The Pianist' Władysław Szpilman

By Louise Burton on Oct 14, 2013 06:00 PM EDT

A Polish court recently found Agata Tuszyńska not guilty of defaming the memory of Polish-Jewish pianist Władysław Szpilman, whose memoir of surviving the Warsaw ghetto was made into the 2002 movie The Pianist.

Tuszyńska wrote a biography of the Polish singer Wiera Gran, a Holocaust survivor who knew Szpilman. In this 2010 book, Tuszyńska quotes from Gran's private papers--including Gran's reference to Szpilman as a "Gestapo man" and her accusation that Szpilman served as a Jewish policeman in the forced resettlement of Warsaw's Jewish population.

Tuszyńska also included Gran's statement that Szpilman and several other residents of the Warsaw ghetto "formed a gang to kill me."

The libel case was brought against Tuszyńska by Szpilman's widow and son, Andrzej Szpilman.

"Straight after the war, my father published his diaries under the title Death of a City, and no one who survived the ghetto, as he himself had, criticized his version of events," Andrzej Szpilman told Der Spiegel. "My father was a victim of the Nazis, not a collaborator."

Szpilman has also criticized Tuszyńska for publishing the accusations of a woman who is no longer alive to explain her statements.

"I don't want the name of my father, who is a symbolic figure, to be dragged through the dirt," he told The Guardian in 2010. The elder Szpilman, who passed away in 2000, is regarded as a national hero in Poland.

Ironically, Wiera Gran, herself, was accused of collaborating with the Nazis during World War II. She was put on trial in 1947, but lack of evidence caused the case to be dropped. Gran left for Israel, but faced similar accusations there. She eventually settled in France, where she performed with Maurice Chevalier among other famous performers. Gran passed away in 2007. Tuszyńska's book, Vera Gran: The Accusedhas been described as an attempt to restore Gran's reputation.

At the end of the libel court case, Judge Bożena Lasota ruled, "Agata Tuszyńska did not treat the words [of Wiera Gran] as the revealed truth, and she expressed her doubts. It is not written that the author agrees with Wiera Gran's outlook, and along with it, the most serious accusations [against Szpilman]."

The Szpilman family will appeal the verdict.

Tuszyńska remarked to Polskie Radio that she welcomed the ruling.

"This was a case about freedom of speech," she said. "If the verdict had been different, a big question mark would have been left hanging over the practice of writing biography and history."

The case does raise interesting freedom of speech issues, as well as issues of journalistic integrity. If a writer discovers information in a deceased person's private papers that defames a public figure, what should the writer do with that information?

Since the person who wrote the information is dead, it may be impossible to prove the veracity of the statements. Is there still a responsibility to make the information public? Or, should the statements not be publicized?

Regardless, it will be interesting to see what happens in round two of this court battle.

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TagsAgata Tuszynska, Władysław Szpilman, The Pianist, Wiera Gran, Death of a City, Andrzej Szpilman, Der Spiegel, The Guardian, Vera Gran: The Accused, Bożena Lasota, Polskie Radio, Chopin

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