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 Music against oblivion:  
 Krzyżowa-Music receives  
 Hosenfeld-Szpilman Prize 2023  

Award ceremony commemorates the famous rescue of the Polish pianist by the German officer in 1944 (known from the film "The Pianist").

On 17 November 1944, a German officer discovers a Jewish pianist in his hiding place in Warsaw. Instead of shooting him, he takes care of him and saves his life. Today, an award for remembrance culture projects is named after the two men: The Hosenfeld-Szpilman Prize. This year it goes to the international chamber music festival Krzyżowa-Music.

Festival director Dr. Matthias von Hülsen came to the award ceremony in the Libeskind Building at Leuphana University Lüneburg together with four long-time participants of the Krzyżowa Festival: Miriam Helms Ålien (violin), Pablo Barragán (clarinet), Alexey Stadler (violoncello) and Amadeus Wiesensee (piano).

"You give us hope," said political scientist Prof. Dr. Gesine Schwan in her laudation in the direction of the musicians. "They believe unswervingly in the peace and joy-giving power of music. Music is the key to understanding." The fact that reconciliation came about in Europe after the German war of aggression would not have been possible without the generosity of neighbouring countries. A "courageous confrontation with guilt" is needed. The aim of the chamber music festival is to overcome the legacy of suffering and prejudice.

Schwan called the encounter between the German officer Wilm Hosenfeld and the Polish pianist Władysław Szpilman a "deeply moving and comforting human encounter". After the soldier discovered the Jew in his hiding place in Warsaw, he provided him with clothing, blankets and food for weeks. When Hosenfeld himself became a prisoner of war, Szpilman tried to free his rescuer. He did not succeed. Hosenfeld died in the Stalingrad camp in 1952.

"It was music that united them," said Poland's Consul General Pawel Jaworski in his greeting about the men who should have been enemies. "We see: The impossible can happen. We must never lose hope and faith, even in difficult times." Referring to Russia's war against Ukraine, he said, "We are not powerless. We are in solidarity. It is the experience of reconciliation that gives us courage."

The festival takes place once a year at the Kreisau estate (Polish: Krzyżowa) near Wroclaw: the place where the Kreisau Circle around the von Moltke couple drew up blueprints for a peaceful post-war Europe during the Second World War. "For all those involved, making music in this place is clearly more than just a professional everyday life. They reflect as citizens in this fractured world," said Matthias von Hülsen in his words of thanks. He was a pediatrician in Hamburg and co-founder of the Schleswig-Holstein Music Festival, later founder and long-time artistic director of the Festspiele Mecklenburg-Vorpommern and is a recipient of the Cross of Merit on Ribbon. During the festival, young and established musicians from all over Europe rehearse pieces of music from all epochs together and discuss the question of how they can use music to promote peace in Europe.

At the award ceremony in the central building of Leuphana University in Lüneburg, the four festival musicians played, among other pieces, excerpts from the Quartet for the End of Time, composed by Olivier Messiaen in the Görlitz prisoner-of-war camp in 1940-41. In the morning, they had also visited a Lüneburg secondary school and talked to the young people about the quartet and its historical context. "You can learn about history with music," said Russian cellist Alexey Stadler after the award ceremony. "Music gives answers to questions about how things can go on. With our music, we stand up for something that is everything but self-evident: European peace."

Members of the Hosenfeld family also travelled to the award ceremony. "My father is an example that one could be human in war," said Dr Jorinde Krejci-Hosenfeld on the sidelines of the ceremony, the last of Wilm Hosenfeld's five children. "This award is very honourable for us. It is important to show: A German officer could also be different. It is important to say to the young people today: You are not to blame for what happened. But you have a responsibility not to let it happen again."

The Hosenfeld-Szpilman Prize was awarded by Leuphana University Lüneburg between 2005 and 2017. In 2023, a board of trustees consisting of the University Society of Lüneburg, the Lüneburg Museum Foundation and the Hanseatic City of Lüneburg awarded the prize for the first time. The external jury members include Prof. Dr. Peter Oliver Loew, Director of the German Poland Institute in Darmstadt, Dr. Elke Gryglewski, Director of the Lower Saxony Memorials Foundation and Prof. Dr. Joachim Tauber, Director of the Northeast Institute in Lüneburg.

The award is endowed with 5,000 euros. The Hosenfeld-Szpilman Prize is financed by the Rotary Club of Lüneburg and the Hanseatic City of Lüneburg. The central building of Leuphana University Lüneburg was designed by the (Jewish) architect Daniel Libeskind.


Wilm (actually Wilhelm) Hosenfeld, born on 2 May 1895 in Mackenzell near Fulda. From 1927 head of the primary school in Thalau near Fulda. He died on 13 August 1952 in the prisoner-of-war camp in Stalingrad.

Władysław Szpilman, born on 5 December 1911 in Sosnowiec in present-day Poland. From 1935, house pianist at the Polish Radio. He was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. He died in Warsaw on 6 July 2000.

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