Hiding in the Spotlight

Hiding in the Spotlight

A Musical Prodigy's Story of Survival, 1941-1946

Book - 2009 | 1st Pegasus Books ed.
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The author relates the remarkable story of his pianist mother, a child prodigy who escaped certain death when the Nazis invaded Ukraine, adopted a new identity, and came under the protection of a Nazi commander who heard her play.
Publisher: New York : Pegasus Books, c2009.
Edition: 1st Pegasus Books ed.
ISBN: 9781605980454
Branch Call Number: BIO ARSHANS DAWSON
Characteristics: 278 p. : ill. ; 22 cm.


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Aug 05, 2019

This was Greg Dawson’s first book, to be followed by “Judgment Before Nuremberg” (reviewed earlier); while that book details Dawson’s pilgrimage to Kharkov to see where his mother and her sister had lived and where their parents and grandparents had perished (Drobitsky Yar), this one chronicles the incredible odyssey of survival experienced by Zhanna and Frina Arshanskaya as they journeyed from Kharkov through western Ukraine, to Berlin and many slave labor camps, and ultimately to Bavaria and the United States – much of it under the assumed names of Anna and Marina Morozova; two Russian Jewish girls who used their musical talent to stay alive while “hiding in plain sight”. It can be compared in certain ways to the story of Fania Fénelon, who used her musical ability to stay alive in Auschwitz, as related in “Playing For Time”.

What stands out for me, along with the all-too-well-known horrors of the Holocaust, here where it began in the fall of 1941, and which I need not go over again, is the incredible power of music to transcend barriers – those of ethnicity, nationality, religion, and ideology – and ultimately to save lives. Little did the sisters imagine that they would be playing before audiences of Wehrmacht troops and SS men on occupation duty in various Ukrainian towns; and later before larger groups of Czechs, Poles, Ukrainians, Estonians, Latvians and Lithuanians in slave labor camps; and little did the Germans know that they were being entertained by Russian Jews – the very people Himmler and his ilk had vowed to exterminate. Yet it was the music of Chopin, Beethoven, Mozart, Scarlatti, Rachmaninoff and many others that brought them all together, at least for awhile – great testimony to music as a universal language, speaking in a somehow transcendent way to the human spirit – and enabled Zhanna and Frina to maintain the charade that kept them alive. (And sometimes, miracle of miracles, the available piano was a Bechstein --the German equivalent of a Steinway!) One of the highlights of their immediate postwar experience was being able to perform for survivors of Dachau.

Later on, after the sisters were able to come to the United States, both attended the Juillard School of Music and had distinguished careers as musical performers and teachers. The book was written in 2008. As of early 2019 Zhanna was still alive; I was unable to confirm Frina’s status. There is a story about Zhanna on CNN.com where she can be heard playing Chopin's "Fantasie Impromptu in C-sharp Minor" to an enraptured audience.

This is at least one Holocaust story with a happy ending, and shows how the United States immigration system, at its best, is supposed to work, opening the doors of our country to those who needed a place of refuge. If the sisters had been forced to return to Ukraine, as many Russian prisoners of war and DP’s were in 1945 and 1946, they would have probably been executed or sent to the Gulag, since Stalin viewed such people as traitors for having been imprisoned or captured and was afraid that they would reveal embarrassing information about the “workers’ paradise”. Thousands of unfortunates did suffer this fate; another testimony to the fact that communist systems always have to be maintained by fear, intimidation and terror since they simply do not work; the human spirit ultimately rebels against them.

May 30, 2016

I count it a privilege to read and share the account of these remarkable women's lives. Thank you Mr. Dawson for your curiousity of your mother's past. Thank you for the lesson.


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