Hiding in the Spotlight by Greg Dawson


This is the true story of two Ukrainian Jewish sisters who miraculously survived Hitler and Stalin.  Jhanna and Frina were child prodigies who were offered scholarships to the music conservancies in both Kharkov and Moscow when they were very young.  When the Nazis came to Kharkov, they narrowly escaped the fate of their parents and grandparents and lived by the grace of strangers who risked their lives to help the girls.  Eventually they were discovered to be musically talented and they played first for the Nazis with a troupe of musicians, dancers and other entertainers in the Ukraine; the troupe was then moved to Berlin.  From there, under Nazi guard, they traveled to various slave labor camps to perform for the workers.  At the end of the war they again narrowly escaped death when they were not repatriated to Russia where Stalin was putting to death prisoners of war who returned to Russia.  In their Displaced Persons camp they had the good fortune of coming to the attention of a man named Larry Dawson from Crozet, Virginia, who recognized their talent and with great determination managed to send them to his family farm there.  Larry's brother David was a musical prodigy who went to Julliard at age 14; after 9 months on the farm in Crozet, the girls were given scholarships to Julliard and eventually Zhanna married David.  David took a job at Indiana University's great music school and they raised their family in Bloomington, Indiana. 

Their son, Greg (the author) and his wife Candy were neighbors of ours in Bloomington in the 70s as they were beginning their own family and I do remember hearing the story of Greg's mother.  I also remember loving the columns he wrote in the local paper; and a favorite memory is of Greg referring to the Beethoven string quartets as "an acquired taste."   (A taste I have acquired in the interim.)

This book made me weep in turn for the unspeakable acts humans perpetrate and for their acts of great valor and goodness.  It's an amazing story, very well told. 

Here's the website with pictures of Greg and Candy's visit to the Ukraine where they saw Drobitsky Yar, the ravine where the Nazis shot 16,000 Jews, including his grandparents and great-grandparents. 

1 comment


  • I wanted to read the book the second i saw it on the shelf. I was so determined and when I finshed I was far from disappointed! I loved ever sentence! It was well put together and I could feel my self in the perspective of both Greg and Zhanna in her heartfelt journey “together”. This book taught me that a second chance or blessings come in different forms and you don’t even realize it’s there–you just go with your instinct. Zhanna is a courageous women and self-motivated. This book is strongly recommended to all people!


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