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Two Pianos: Playing for Life narrators & pianists

May 2022

Two Pianos: Playing for Life Performance

Untermyer Gardens, Yonkers NY

(L to R) Varshavski, Levins, Shapiro, Hoffman

Stolpersteine installation for relatives, Grajewo Poland 2019

14 September 2022

Stolpersteine (Stumbling Stones) Installation

 for relatives Ruben, Civia and Dina Suwalski

Grajewo, Poland

Nora Jean Levin with Niece Stephanie Haftel

Click here for Levin's remarks

Firebird (2023): creative nonfiction book cover


WELCOME to PAPERS, PLEASE -- a Washington D.C. nonprofit arts / education corporation which re-creates an extended Jewish family's first-person journeys through tumultuous cultural, political and economic events -- the Great War, the Russian Revolutions, the rise of fascism, World War II, the Holocaust, the creation of the State of Israel  -- that shaped the West's 20th Century. Our overall mission is to highlight the relevance of this past to today's headlines. We work (and sometimes partner) with local officials, institutions, museums, libraries and non-profit organizations to educate, reconcile with and memorialize vanished lives and times.  


The core of these linked individual journeys is resilience that overcomes desperation and the life-or-death need for proper identity, residence, citizenship or travel documents -- "Papers, please?" -- our characters face at every border they reach.  This  question shapes their ability to work, study, live, and secure new lives.  It's a theme that echoes for millions of refugees and immigrants on the move today.


Time Frame: c. 1890 - c. 1990


Countries: Romania, Poland, Russia, Germany, France, Austria, Lithuania, British Mandate Palestine, Denmark, Latin America, Israel, the U.S. 


Scope: Papers, Please brings together a linked series of odysseys in a panoramic canvas.  At its core are first-person narratives we collected from our principals, their families and their friends.   That's thanks to Hirsch Bieler, who recognized his story had a broader context that could be grasped only if unfamiliar times,  places and characters were made familiar.  He convinced us too -- though mastering the who, what, when, where and how of this adventure in life-long learning took us four decades. 


Here are this saga's main characters.  Here are some of its secondary characters.  And here are some of the resources we drew from. 


We bring these tales and their times to life through nonfiction books; a series of multi-media Two Pianos 'concert documentaries' with narration plus live classical music, presented around the world; a curated traveling exhibit with numerous artifacts; educational materials; and video performance highlights or full-length DVDs.  Highlights videos are on our Two Pianos You Tube Channel.   Highlights videos and performance reviews also are on our Two Pianos website.

Our books are published under the imprint Penn Convoy Press, in memory of the oil products company Hirsch Bieler founded in 1939 after he reached the States.  They are illustrated full-length nonfiction volumes centered on first-person oral histories of the main characters and their circles, backed by letters, photographs, travel documents, and historical context. 


Books, performances and related activities also help us build bridges between past and present, across borders and cultures.

-- Nora Jean and Michael H. Levin, August 2023

Recent Activities

May 2023


Firebird:  The Musical Life and Times of [Classical Pianist] Rebecca Burstein-Arber

To order this creative nonfiction book,

please click here

June 2023

Book Reading

A Border Town in Poland

Nora Jean and Michael H. Levin

Oak Bluffs Library, Martha's Vineyard MA

July 2023

Book Reading


Nora Jean and Michael H. Levin

Chilmark Library, Martha's Vineyard MA

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