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Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy's Story of Survival, 1941-1946

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Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy's Story of Survival, 1941-1946 [Hardcover]

Greg Dawson
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)

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Book Description

June 27, 2009
Zhanna, a young Jewish girl from Ukraine, also happens to be a gifted piano prodigy and is giving concerts by the age of six. When disaster strikes her hometown and her family is condemned to exile and execution, Zhanna manages to escape the famed Nazi death march to Dorbitsky Yar and uses her rare musical gift to help her survive. Performing and giving concerts for the occupying German troops as they move throughout Europe, Zhanna keeps her true identity a secret until a young American soldier with ties to Julliard adopts her. Upon her emigration to America, Zhanna’s gift flourishes and she becomes one of the first Jewish refugees to enter Juilliard.

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this remarkable recreation of the WWII years, Dawson, a columnist at the Orlando Sentinel, writes about his mother, pianist Zhanna Arkashyna in an account reminiscent of Wladyslaw Szpilman's The Pianist. As a child in the Ukraine, Zhanna was offered a scholarship to the Moscow State Conservatory. Her life changed in 1941 when Nazis grouped her Jewish family with thousands to be executed; Zhanna and her sister, Frina, escaped to roam the countryside as fugitives, hiding and surviving. With a new name and a non-Jewish identity, Zhanna performed for unsuspecting Nazis. Arriving in New York in 1946, the sisters enrolled at Juilliard on scholarships. Zhanna married violist David Dawson, and the couple moved in 1948 to Bloomington, Ind., joining the music faculty at Indiana University. To research his mother's homeland, Dawson traveled to Ukraine, including Dorbitsky Yar, where 15,000 Jews were murdered, among them Zhanna and Frina's parents. On a memorial listing the dead, Dawson was shocked to find his mother's name: I had come that close to nonexistence. With italicized selections from his mother's own writing, Dawson skillfully weaves the story of her life and music into a vibrant tapestry, tattered and torn, yet triumphant. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“Summoning all the colors of a Chopin prelude, Greg Dawson has painted a vivid picture of his mother from her fairy tale childhood in the Ukraine to her final escape from the Nazis and her triumphant voyage to America. A wonderful, staggering achievement.” — Mona Golabek, Grammy-nominated pianist and host of The Romantic Hours

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 288 pages
  • Publisher: Pegasus; 1St Edition edition (June 27, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1605980455
  • ISBN-13: 978-1605980454
  • Product Dimensions: 0.6 x 0.1 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (73 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,207,225 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

4.8 out of 5 stars
4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
38 of 40 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars An amazing story of survival through music June 12, 2009
Hiding in the Spotlight tells the true story of two young Jewish sisters from the Ukraine. When their family is removed from its home and sent on a Nazi death march in the winter of 1941, piano prodigies Zhanna and Frina Arshankaya are spared through an exchange brokered by their father and a Ukrainian guard: the two girls are allowed to escape for their father's pocket watch. Left without family, Zhanna and Frina reinvented themselves as orphans of a Red Army soldier and joined a troupe of entertainers. The sisters survived the war by performing for German soldiers and officers and living in constant fear of discovery of their Jewish ancestry.

After the war, Zhanna and Frina were liberated but homeless. They were sent to a displaced persons camp near Munich where they avoided boredom by staging shows on a "bare stage" and a "creaky piano." The camp's American director, recognizing the sister's prodigious musical talent, committed to adopt the sisters. He sent them to safety in America, where Zhanna and Frina struggled to adapt to a new language, culture, and family on a farm in Virginia.

Perhaps due to his forty years as a journalist, Dawson writes this story with a keen eye for historical accuracy and describes the horrors inflicted by the Nazis in vivid detail. But the narrative is not without a personal connection. Dawson is Zhanna's son, and this link gives him great access to the emotional side of the story. My only wish is that Dawson had continued the story beyond 1946 to cover the sisters' new life in America. I may be a bit biased, however, because the camp director who adopted the sisters, Larry Dawson, was my grandfather. And the grand piano I learned to play during summers spent with my grandmother on her farm in Virginia is the same piano that greeted Zhanna and Frina on their first night in America.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Triumph of Life and Literature July 15, 2009
I've enjoyed reading Greg Dawson's columns in the Orlando Sentinel for years, so I was delighted to hear that he'd written a book. But when I learned the topic, I wondered: How would a writer whose trademark is irreverent humor and puns that make you groan handle telling the story of a Holocaust survivor? Now that I've read the book, I can tell you that he did it with skill, grace, and love.

Hiding in the Spotlight is the story of Dawson's mother, Zhanna Arshanskaya Dawson, who was born in Berdyansk, Ukraine, and was able to escape the Holocaust death camps thanks to the sacrificial love of her father and the amazing heart of many people along the way who were willing to risk their own lives to save others.

Zhanna and her younger sister assumed false identities to hide the fact that they were Jewish and, because they were talented musicians, spent much of the war entertaining the Nazis. At the end of the war, they were able to reclaim their own identities and eventually came to the United States as teenagers, where Zhanna attended the Julliard School.

Greg Dawson writes that he grew up blissfully unaware of his mother's traumatic youth. He quotes his mother: "How can you tell children about such things? It would be too cruel."

But Zhanna's is a story that needs to be told and her son is the perfect person to tell it. We cannot afford to forget the horrors, the unspeakable cruelty and misery of that time, and Dawson's writing skills puts the reader right in the middle of it.

Zhanna's father's last words to her were: "I don't care what you do--just live!" She did that well, with strength, determination, and dignity.

And if the book itself doesn't move you to tears more than once, be sure to read the acknowledgements.
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7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Music, determination, and love July 13, 2009

Zhanna and Frina Arkashyna's story was by turns fascinating, horrifying, and ultimately inspiring. Not only did I learn a lot about the fate of Russian Jews in World War II, but also how determination, love, and just plain good fortune shape our paths in life.

Greg Dawson did an excellent job: the book is straightforward and compelling, never sliding off into glurge nor getting lost in too much background information.

After keeping it to herself most of her life, I'm so glad Zhanna was willing to share her story. Holocaust survivors' experiences need to be recorded and told. This one was done beautifully.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent July 8, 2009
This book was a wonderful read. I found the story extremely compelling and still am thinking about how crazy it was and how it could be true. I could not put the book down. Anyone interested in WWII will find this book fascinating.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Who knows about this ? August 27, 2013
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
What a wonderful story ! A hard story, a painful story but Wonderful. I would never have known about this extraordinary woman had it not been for a chance meeting with one of her students. The former student is a 'Storyteller Extraordinaire' and my wife and I were quite sure that he was embellishing and exaggerating the story of Jana Dawson. How wrong we were. Quite a remarkable story of survival (another holocaust terror ), triumph of the human spirit, brute and stubborn determination and courage. Also, it would seem, very Honest and direct. No trumpeting or calling of a human being a haloed saint. I can't recommend it highly enough. Congratulations to her son for writing what must have been a painful and frustrating epic journey of discovering the full story of his Mother !
Superb !

david jay logan
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Engrossing
Great WWII story.
Published 1 month ago by Jackie
3.0 out of 5 stars Three Stars
Interesting story from the World War II era in Russia.
Published 5 months ago by Joyce Hotchkiss
5.0 out of 5 stars Wonderful Book!
What a wonderful book! Being a piano professor myself, I was riveted to this personal account of the Holocaust through the experience of the two, young piano prodigies. Read more
Published 6 months ago by CCorley
5.0 out of 5 stars This is a WWII thriller that just happens to be ...
This is a WWII thriller that just happens to be totally non fiction. And the story continues into America today.
Published 6 months ago by Robert Rader
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Good book!
Published 7 months ago by Rhonda Simpson
4.0 out of 5 stars A very good book. an unusual Holocaust story
A very good book . an unusual Holocaust story . Easy reading.
Published 8 months ago by devora rubin
5.0 out of 5 stars Riveting.
I could not out the book down. I recommend this book to anyone who likes biographies and especially ones interested in WWII HISTORY.
Published 8 months ago by Kindle Customer
5.0 out of 5 stars A fascinating view of the holocaust!
Greg Dawson did a fantastic job presenting the facts of his mother's life while keeping the human/ emotional side to the story. And it is a remarkable story! Well worth reading!
Published 9 months ago by V. Enlow
5.0 out of 5 stars I MUST LIVE
I was a little reluctan to choose the book,Hiding In the Spotlight, for my selection for our book club because I had not read it all the way through. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mavis B. Johnson
5.0 out of 5 stars As I have said in previous reviews... ...
As I have said in previous reviews...this story should affect all of us...the part of history for which we all are ashamed.
Published 12 months ago by Patricia Rogers
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