Auschwitz survivor jazz star “Coco” dies

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German-jewish jazz and swing musician Heinz Jakob “Coco” Schumann, passed away at the age of 93 years, his record company said.

Schumann, a survivor of the Holocaust, “delighted his audience,” not only with the music but with “humor and warmth”, the company, Trikont, said.

The musician was said to have become fond of swing music, having heard it to the Olympic games of Berlin in 1936.

Later, he was forced to entertain the Nazi guards at a number of concentration camps, after he was arrested in 1943.

Trikont, Munich-based record company which represented Schumann, said the musician died at Berlin on Sunday. The cause of his death has not been announced.

Schumann, who was born in Berlin in 1924, to a Jewish mother and a father who converted to Judaism, has made a name for himself in the city of the underground music scene in the 1930s.

He has trained himself to play drums and guitar and joined his first band as a teenager.

It was his French girlfriend who has given him his “Coco” nickname after that it would have had a hard time with the pronunciation of “Jakob”.

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In 1943, after the Nazis ‘ rise to power, Schumann was arrested and deported to Theresienstadt, a concentration camp in what is now the Czech Republic.

While at Theresienstadt, Schumann, became a member of a group known as the Ghetto Swingers. He was forced to perform for Nazi SS officers of the camp administration, and later described the experience as “unbearable”.

“We played music in hell,” Schumann said later of his time in Theresienstadt, the Huffington Post reports.

The following year, with the other members of the Ghetto Swingers, he was sent to the extermination camp of Auschwitz in Nazi-occupied Poland, where he has been playing for prisoners and those who are subjected to forced labour.
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Schumann, who later survived one of the prisoners “walk of death” as the Nazi guards fled the advancing Allied troops, has said that music had “saved the life”.

He returned to Germany, at the end of the second World War and has continued to play music, make more records.

In 1950, he left Germany for Australia, but came back four years later to revive his music career before a tour with his Coco Schumann Quartet.

He also became one of the country’s first prominent electric guitar player.

“I am a musician who has been imprisoned in the concentration camps,” Schumann said, in later years, adding: “Not a concentration camp prisoner who plays the music.”

His autobiography, The Ghetto-Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers, was first published in 1997 and became a best-seller. In 2012, it was staged as a musical in the German city of Hamburg.