Dobritsky Yar had two giant pits like the ones at Babi Yar near the city of Kiev, where the Nazis killed 34,000 Jews in two days, most machine-gunned in the back.
Dimitri Arshansky pulled out his gold pocketwatch and flashed it in front of a young Ukrainian guard. He told the guard his family wasn't Jewish; to please let his little girl go.
Dawson says her father realized that he could not save both his girls -- two of them running would be too much commotion. He knew Zhanna, the adventurous, free-spirited one named after Joan of Arc, had a chance to survive. As the guard took the bribe and looked away, she fell out of line and ran like the wind.
"I don't care what you do," her father told her. "Just live."
Playing for the enemy
A few days later Dawson was reunited with her sister. To this day she does not know how Frina escaped the death march. Frina has never spoken of it or about anything else from that time. Dawson believes her sister was too traumatized to talk about it.
With the help of friends, the two girls made it to an orphanage and were able to obtain fake, non-Jewish identities. For the rest of the war, they were no longer their father's daughters.
"My name is Anna Morozova. I am from Kharkov. My sister Marina and I are orphans. Our father was an officer on the Red Army and was killed in action. Our mother died in the bombing of Kharkov."
Dawson said it so many times during the rest of the war that it echoed endlessly in her head.
A piano tuner at the orphanage heard her play one day and offered her and Frina jobs with a musical troupe that entertained the Germans. It was a frightening prospect but Dawson kept thinking of her father's last words -- just live. They played for Nazi generals and in front of German audiences in the city of Kremenchug. Bach, Beethoven, Rachmaninoff, Liszt, Brahms, Chopin.
Years later people asked her how she could have done what she did. Was it not like the musicians who played as Jews walked into gas chambers in the concentration camps?
"I was playing for the memory of my parents," she says. "I was playing to survive."
And her music, she says, was the only spot of beauty in that bleak atmosphere. Music provided a psychological cocoon. Without it, her spirits might have broken.
There were moments when she feared they would be found out for who they really were and shot on the spot or sent to a gas chamber. One time, the German soldiers put the onus of proof that the girls were Jews on the people who ratted them out.
"We were a precious commodity for the Germans," she said. "We were more valuable alive than dead."
Months turned into years of hiding in plain view.
When the Germans began retreating, they took the musical troupe with them, back to Berlin. There, the Jewish Arshanskaya girls walked past Gestapo headquarters and even Adolf Hitler's bunker after the Allied bombing began.
When the war finally ended in 1945, they were taken to a displaced persons camp run by a young American officer, Larry Dawson, who had a passion for music. Dawson's brother David was an accomplished viola player.
Larry Dawson arranged for a concert. Zhanna and Frina were to play for survivors of Dachau, the notorious concentration camp near Munich.
Zhanna Dawson remembers how nervous she was on the evening of April 13, 1946. After years of playing for the enemy, she was finally going to perform for her own people.
"These were such special people."
In front of the stage at the Landsberg Yiddish Center, sat 1,200 Jews.
Gaunt. Ragged. Weary.
They exploded with applause and bravos, even though Dawson knew that technically, it was the worst she had ever played.
"This was a celebration," she says. "It was the only time I didn't care how I played. I thought again of what my father said. 'Just live.' Just play."