Author: Greg Dawson
Publisher: Pegasus Books
ISBN: 978-1-60598-045-4

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

Rarely am I able to read a book in one sitting, however Greg Dawson’s Hiding in the Spotlight:A Musical Prodigy's Story Of Survival 1941-1946 was the exception.  

In Hiding in the Spotlight: A Musical Prodigy's Story Of Survival 1941-1946 Dawson narrates the story of his mother, Zhanna Arshanskaya, who was a Holocaust survivor and an extraordinary pianist.

The back cover of the book mentions that at the age of six when she was living in Berdyansk, Ukraine in 1931 where she had developed a repertoire of a student twice her age, gave her first public performance, and was offered music scholarships to some of the most prestigious conservatories in the Soviet Union that had produced legends like Rachmaninoff and Horowitz. When performing in the USA, one of the critics described her playing as “unshakeable decision, clarity, purpose, and great strengths.”  As Dawson states and as we learn, these were the qualities that made it possible along with her unbelievable talent and a family of Righteous Gentiles, for his mother to have survived the Holocaust.

Growing up in Indiana, Dawson’s mother never mentioned hers as well as her sister’s Frina, who was also a brilliant pianist, perilous journey during the Holocaust and how both managed to come out alive. When Dawson questioned his mother about the Holocaust, her reply was “How can you tell children about such things. It would be too cruel.” However, at the age of eighty-one, as well the occurrence of various events, Zhanna was coaxed to share with her son what exactly happened to her and her sister during their shocking ordeals.

These included the murder at the hands of the Nazis of her parents and grandparents and thousands of Jews in 1942 in Kharkov, Ukraine when she was fourteen and her sister was twelve, the changing of her name and that of her sister to Anna and Marina Morozova, the taking on of a new identity with the story that they were the orphaned daughters of a father who was an officer in the Red army and was killed in action and that their mother died in the bombing of Kharkov, and the meeting of a guardian angel in a displaced persons camp in Germany who was instrumental in having them included in the first boatload of Holocaust survivors to America and their admittance to Julliard.  Amazingly, through it all, both his mother and his aunt managed not to be cynical towards life, a bittersweet testament to follow what Zhanna’s father told her before he and her mother vanished in the gas chambers of Nazi Germany, “I don’t care what you do-just live!”

One major force of Zhanna’s life the Nazis could never steal from her was her love of music and her incredible talents that were to become a pivotal ingredient in helping her as well as her sister survive. As music took the place of religion in his mother’s and grandparents home, her father made sure that both his daughters would become extraordinary pianists.  As Dawson mentions, the war may have taken everything from his mother and aunt except the love and music and the piece of sheet music she tucked inside her shirt in the final moments before fleeing her home at gunpoint. The sheet music he refers to was his mother’s favorite, Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu and as we discover, was to become her savior during the Holocaust.

Dawson has been a journalist for over forty years and is now a columnist with the Orlando Sentinel. Hiding in the Spotlight is a memorable debut that is extraordinarily sensitive and at times emotional and painful that it brings you to the point of tears. Moreover, Dawson has done his homework in skillfully assembling his facts as he recreates the historical setting and the tragedies of this grim era of history. 

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