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MAY 14, 2012 - Zhanna Arshanskaya Dawson had a talent for playing the piano even from an early age, starting at 5. She even played Bach’s Invention Number 1 in public, encouraged by her parent’s love of music. Unfortunately she was a Ukrainian Jew living in Kharkov, and the year was 1941. German troops stormed her house, and marched her and her family towards a death camp She and her sister somehow managed to get away from the guards, and ended up in an orphanage. There, a caregiver heard her talent for playing piano, and offered her and her sister a chance to play with a musical troupe entertaining Germans, and they used their talent to stay alive, and eventually make it to America in 1946.
In a CNN article by Moni Basu Zhanna says about playing for the Germans, “I was playing for the memory of my parents. I was playing to survive.” She ended up hiding in plain sight entertaining the Germans with her music, and even was taken with the musical troupe back to Berlin at the end of the war. After the war in 1946 in a camp for displaced persons run by the Americans, she met Larry Dawson, a musical lover and viola player himself and he arranged to have a concert for the survivors of Dachau. She remembers fondly of finally playing for her people, and said, “These were such special people”.
Her and her sister’s musical talent helped them get to America, and even win scholarships. Zhanna now lives in Atlanta, and is being honored with a doctor of letters from Oglethorpe University. Her son Greg Dawson has wrote a book called "Hiding in the Spotlight" recounting the events, and has also made a mini documentary (watch below). You can read the full article over at CNN here.