Guitarist survived Holocaust with music
COCO Schumann, a German jazz guitarist who performed alongside Ella Fitzgerald and Marlene Dietrich during a decades-long musical career, but who gave his most consequential performances as an inmate of the Nazi concentration camps where, he said, music saved his life, died on January 28 in Berlin. He was 93.
Schumann’s death was reported by the German news agency DPA, which described him as “one of Germany’s most celebrated jazz musicians”. The cause was not immediately available.
“The human is a peculiar creation,” Schumann once told an interviewer, reflecting on his experience during the Holocaust.
“Unpredictable and merciless. What we saw in those days was unbearable and yet we bore it. We played the tunes to it, for the sake of our bare survival. We played music in hell.”
Schumann first heard and made music in what he called the “roaring” jazz scene of Berlin, where he was born Heinz Jakob Schumann on May 14, 1924. (A French girlfriend dubbed him
Coco.) The son of a Jewish mother and a father who had reportedly converted from Christianity to Judaism, Schumann said he grew up celebrating Jewish as well as Christian holidays.
An uncle gave him his first drum set, which Schumann played in Berlin cabarets until he had saved enough money to buy his first guitar.
But by the late 1930s, the Nazi government under Adolf Hitler had begun to suppress jazz, which the regime condemned as “degenerate” because of its association with Jewish and black composers and musicians.
Schumann, whose partial Jewish heritage made him particularly vulnerable to Nazi anti-Semitic persecution, nonetheless continued to perform. Schumann was ultimately arrested in 1943, and sent to Theresienstadt, the camp-ghetto in Czechoslovakia. – Washington Post