Zhanna’s Story


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

The extraordinary true story of a young girl whose musical genius saves her from the Holocaust. 

By Greg Dawson, her son

By the age of six, Zhanna had developed a repertoire fellow students twice her age would envy. Scholarships to the most prestigious conservatories in the Soviet Union soon followed—conservatories that had produced legends like Rachmaninoff, Kogan, and Horowitz.

In 1941 disaster strikes. The Nazi Army is smashing through the Ukraine en route to Moscow. Zhanna and her family are to be executed alongside thousands of others in the ravines of Drobitsky Yar. A few short miles from certain death, her father bribes a nearby guard, and she escapes into the forest with only the clothes on her back, a copy of Chopin’s Fantasy Impromptu in her pocket, and her father’s parting words echoing in her head:

“I don’t care what you do, just live.”

Adopting a new identity and ever fearful of recognition, Zhanna roamed the ravaged countryside. One lonely evening, the head of a local Nazi battalion hears her play. he is so taken with her exquisite interpretation of Chopin that little Zhanna soon becomes the performing darling of the Nazi forces.


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