Holocaust jazz guitarist dies, 93

Holocaust jazz guitarist dies, 93

Coco Schumann, a Holocaust survivor who became one of Germany’s most celebrated jazz musicians with the Coco Schumann Quartet, has died at 93 in Berlin.

The self-taught maestro was one of the first artists in Germany to perform using an electric guitar.

Born in 1924 to a Jewish mother and a Christian father, who later converted to Judaism, Heinz Jakob Schumann was given his first guitar at birth by his cousin. He played guitar and drums in Berlin swing bands as a child.

The musician was said to have become fond of swing after hearing it at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.

Schumann was apparently called Coco by a French girlfriend who struggled saying Jakob.

After 1933, Schumann was banned from performing in public but he took off his yellow star and continued to play.

He was caught in 1943 and sent to the Theresienstadt ghetto, now in the Czech Republic, where he performed with the Ghetto Swingers, founded by engineer and amateur trumpeter Erich Figel.

He performed for Nazi SS officers running the Theresienstadt camp, describing the experience as “unbearable”. “We played music in hell,” Schumann later said of Theresienstadt.

In 1944, the band were sent to Auschwitz, where they played to arrivals and accompanied forced labour colonies as they marched. Three of the 16 original band members survived. “My life was saved by music,” Schumann later said.

He survived a prisoners’ “death march” as the Nazi guards fled advancing troops.

Schumann returned to Germany at the end of Second World War and continued playing music, releasing several records.

“I’m a musician who spent time in a concentration camp, not a camp inmate who played a bit of music,” he wrote in his autobiography Der Ghetto Swinger, published in 1997. It became a bestseller and was staged in Hamburg as a musical in 2012.

He left Germany for Australia in 1950 with his wife and son, only to return four years later.

He also became one of Germany’s first prominent electric guitar players.

During his career, he performed with German jazz icons, including violinist Helmut Zacharias and piano player and singer Bully Buhlan.


The shooting of the first Theresienstadt film in 1942. Picture credit: Wikimedia 


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