Alias Anna: A True Story of Outwitting the Nazis


Readability Age Range



Year Published

Book Review

Zhanna’s life is filled with music—until the Nazis arrive. Now she must assume a new name to hide her Jewish identity and follow her father’s final plea: “Just live.”

Plot Summary

Growing up in a Ukrainian household in the 1930s meant poverty and hardship for many. But Zhanna and her sister Frina live in a household sustained by literature, beauty and, most of all, music.

The sisters receive coveted scholarships to the Kharkov Conservatory of Music when they are only 8 and 6 years old. They flourish, playing in concerts all over the country—until the Nazis attack.

Forced to leave their homes and belongings, the family marches with thousands of other Jews toward the unknown. They reach an abandoned factory that provides little shelter from the cold. The Nazis feed their prisoners almost nothing, and Zhanna sneaks out and walks back to the city to find garbage to keep her family from starving.

One day, the family lines up with other prisoners to march to what will become known in history as the Drobitsky Yar, a mass grave for murdered Jews. Zhanna’s father doesn’t know where they’re headed, but he knows his daughter’s only chance is to escape before they reach their destination. He bribes the guard with a pocket watch, and the guard indicates that he’ll overlook Zhanna jumping out of line.

“I don’t care what you do. Just live,” her father says.

Zhanna slips away and walks back to Kharkov, mourning her family. She stays with one former classmate and then another, trying to stay hidden. One day she hears the most unexpected, joyful news: Frina is alive, too.

Her sister never shares how she escaped death, but that doesn’t matter. They’re reunited. The family the sisters are staying with explains that getting admitted to an orphanage is the only way to obtain official papers with fake names.

The danger of hiding in Kharkov is too great, so the sisters memorize their cover story and prepare to venture into the unknown. Zhanna chooses the alias Anna.

“A for Anna. A for alive.”

After much travel and several close calls, the girls manage to find an orphanage in Kremenchug that issues them official papers with their aliases. They play on the orphanage piano, and the piano tuner insists they go with him to the music school where they will get far better food and accommodations. But there’s one catch: they’ll have to play for Nazis.

Over the next few years, the sisters are forced to travel from the USSR to Berlin itself, entertaining officers and prisoners. All the while, Zhanna struggles to keep their true identities hidden and fulfill her father’s final wish for her and her sister: to live.

Christian Beliefs

Priests and a Russian Orthodox church are described.

Other Belief Systems

Zhanna and her family are Jewish, but music seems to be almost a quasi-deity, too. And music certainly serves as a spiritual refuge for the family.

Authority Roles

Zhanna’s parents are kind and loving. Her mom enjoys books, while her father favors music.

Readers learn plenty about Joseph Stalin’s cruelty and ruthlessness, including how he forced farmers off their land in the name of communism and his ill-fated alliance with Hitler that led him to keep information from his citizens about the Nazi brutality.

Hitler’s horrific role in history is also described.

Profanity & Violence

The Nazis threaten Zhanna’s parents repeatedly, then force the Jews in the city to march to an abandoned factory. The Nazis are cruel to the prisoners, and people freeze to death on the march.

The conditions at the factory are abysmal, with little shelter from the elements, horrible sanitary conditions and very little food. The Nazis murder the majority of the prisoners, with many killed at the Drobitsky Yar.

When a dancer tries to escape during the Nazi retreat, he is beaten severely.

We read about cities being bombed, as well as bombings and gunfire directed at trains.

The Red Army’s abuses during their advance to Berlin are mentioned, including torture. Shortly thereafter, we read about the liberation of Berlin—but also learn that Hitler and his mistress, Eva Braun, commit suicide before Allied forces reach them.

Many people who tried to return to the USSR were imprisoned, sent to the gulags, tortured or executed as suspected traitors.

An endnote explains the history of the killing fields more fully.

Sexual Content


Discussion Topics

Why is learning about history important? Did you learn any lessons from the story?

Anna had to be courageous and smart to survive the war. What helps you be brave when you’re scared?

When you encounter obstacles or challenges, how do you react? Do you think there are ways you could react better?

Read John 16:33. How can you find hope even when hardships come?

Get free discussion questions for books at

Additional Comments

This story is inspirational and gripping, and Susan Hood does an excellent job bringing a true story to life in vivid detail. Many kids will enjoy and gain from this historical account. But the violence and cruelty of the war could make this story difficult for younger readers.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

Review by Rachel Pfeiffer