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Survival through Music


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Excerpt from in the documentary "La Paloma ade. Play them the song of death", 1997
© ZDF, Mainz

Painting: Alfred Kantor, "Terezin's Café"

Alfred Kantor: "Terezin's Café" (Theresienstadts Café), 1945. On the picture Kantor remarks: "The main attraction of the coffeehouse was a small jazz band, the Fricek Weiss Quintet, also called the Ghetto Swingers. They played every day, but we were only allowed to visit the coffee house once a year for a period of two hours. People sat there silently, many with tears in their eyes, listening to the music."
© From: Das Buch des Alfred Kantor, Wien/München/Zürich: Fritz Molden Verlag, 1972

The Berlin jazz guitarist Coco Schumann (b. 1924) suffered under the repression in Berlin in the 1930s and 1940s before he was deported to Theresienstadt in 1943 and Auschwitz in 1944. Music saved his life in both camps. He is still a highly respected jazz musician today.

Heinz Schumann, called Coco, was raised in a liberal, Jewish, artisan family in Berlin Mitte in the certitude of being German. He developed a passion for jazz already as a boy. This helped him endure his exclusion as a Jew by his peers during the Nazi era and became an alternative world as a 16-year-old.

Music saved his life. Coco Schumann played percussion in the jazz band the "Ghetto Swingers" in the Theresienstadt ghetto. The "flagship ghetto" had a highly restricted cultural life, but daily life was shaped by hardship and misery.

Foto:Guards divide Hungarian Jews

Guards divide Hungarian Jews who have just arrived at Auschwitz-Birkenau into two groups - those fit and those unfit for labor. The picture was taken in May 1944, probably by one of the SS guards.
© Bildarchiv Preußischer Kulturbesitz

Coco Schumann was deported to the Auschwitz-Birkenau extermination camp at the end of September 1944. He managed to avoid grueling forced labor by being labeled a musician. His band had to play for the watchmen and when the prisoners were being herded into the gas chambers.

Following liberation, Coco Schumann returned to Berlin in July 1945. There he saw his parents and his brother, who had survived thanks to fortunate circumstances. He began his real career as a professional musician in postwar Germany.

"I'm not a concentration camp prisoner who played music, but rather a musician who was once in a concentration camp," the jazz musician Coco Schumann explains how he sees himself .

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