Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis

Alias Anna cover
Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis by Susan Hood and Greg Dawson

By Susan Hood and Greg Dawson
HarperCollins, 2022
352 pages

Age 11 and older

Zhanna Arshanskaya and her sister, Frina, are talented musicians growing up in Ukraine in the 1930s. After their family is detained following the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union during World War II, Zhanna manages to escape on the march to Drobytsky Yar (site of a mass killing of Jews). Her father’s instructions: Live. Later she miraculously reunites with her sister, although Frina won’t talk about how she escaped (the sense is she survived the mass killing and fled). The two girls eventually obtain false papers identifying them as Christian orphans: Anna and Marina. Their public performances in the past put them at risk of being recognized, but their talent sets them apart. They end up in a troop of traveling entertainers performing for Nazi officers. At war’s end, in a displaced person’s camp, they perform for Jewish survivors before the American camp commander helps them immigrate to the United States. Coauthor Greg Dawson is a journalist, and Zhanna’s son. Zhanna never spoke of her experience when he was growing up. In the late 1990s, Zhanna’s granddaughter, then 13, asked Zhanna about her own life at 13 for a school assignment and Zhanna finally began to tell her extraordinary story. This moving, lyrical account first grounds readers in Zhanna’s life before the Nazi invasion and then recounts the harrowing years that followed. It’s told in poems rich with musical references and divided into “movements.” End matter includes black-and-white photographs, Dawson’s fascinating research journey, Poetry notes, and more. ©2022 Cooperative Children’s Book Center