In 1930s Warsaw, a young beauty named Vera Gran made a name for herself as a seductive and charming cabaret singer with a voice fans likened to Edith Piaf’s and Marlene Dietrich’s. Gran (born Grynberg) was, along with her mother and sisters and thousands of other Jews, forced to live inside the Warsaw Ghetto during World War II. During her time in the ghetto, she continued performing until she managed, with the help of her Polish husband, to escape its confines and go into hiding in 1942. Her family perished.
As devastating as that loss was, Gran’s nightmare took a harrowing new turn after the war, when she was suddenly accused by other survivors—including her accompanist, the pianist Wladyslaw Szpilman—of having collaborated with the Gestapo. Her story captivated the Polish writer Agata Tuszyńska, who was born after the war but whose own mother and grandmother struggled to survive in the Warsaw Ghetto and who feels still the effects of that confinement in her own life. Tuszyńska, in New York as part of the PEN World Voices Festival, made Gran’s acquaintance in Paris, when Gran was old and bitter and ever suspicious. Tuszyńska’s new book is Vera Gran: The Accused, and she talks with Vox Tablet host Sara Ivry about how she convinced the paranoid old woman to talk to her, about the nature of the accusations made against Gran, and about the slow process of discovery that has followed from Tuszyńska’s learning, at age 19, that her mother was a Jew. [Running time: 33:38.]