I previously blogged about Coco Schumann, the famous jazz musician, known as the “Ghetto swinger”, who played in the Theresienstadt ghetto and later in the Auschwitz “death camp.”
This quote is from a news article about him:
Known as Germany’s most famous swing guitarist, the now 91 year old Coco Schumann has played with jazz greats like Marlene Dietrich, Ella Fitzgerald, Dizzy Gillespie, and Louis Armstrong. Yet until the 1980s none of his colleagues knew of his experience in the Holocaust. Coco didn’t speak about “it.” Not even his closest friends knew what had happened to him except for the barest of facts Coco volunteered.
“I was in Theresienstadt and Auschwitz,” he would say and leave it at that.
In 1943, at 19 years old, Coco was turned in by a snitch for being Jewish and playing “forbidden” jazz in underground swing clubs in Berlin. The Nazis deported him to Theresienstadt. In its earlier years, Theresienstadt was not yet a death camp. “It was the flagship-ghetto the Nazis showed the world,” says Coco. Much to his astonishment, Coco discovered a coffeehouse shortly after his arrival.
“A coffee house! In the ghetto! I couldn’t believe my eyes.”
There, Coco found the legendary Ghetto Swingers playing the music of Count Basie and Duke Ellington that the Nazis had long outlawed in the rest of Germany — a surreal background tune to the cataclysm of the war. Because the Ghetto Swingers’ drummer had been deported to Auschwitz a few days before, Coco took his place. They played every day.
“We feigned a normal life. We tried to forget that there was an impenetrable fence all around.”
A well-known German newspaper once printed a headline above a profile of him: “Coco Schumann — the horrible life of a jazz legend.”
Coco has a different perspective. “But that’s not true. No, my dear, I tell myself, looking at this bright planet, it was a wild and colorful ride, at times too long, but always too short, life has shown me its unbelievably mean and terribly beautiful face. But one thing it was and is certainly not: horrible.
Read Coco Schumann`s incredible life story in the forthcoming book The Ghetto Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers (DoppelHouse Presse, January 2016) and Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs (Atria/Enliven, October 2015).