Coco Schumann

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Coco Schumann
Coco Schumann - cropped.jpg
Schumann in 2012
Background information
Birth nameHeinz Jakob Schumann
Born(1924-05-14)14 May 1924
Berlin, Free State of Prussia, Weimar Republic
Died28 January 2018(2018-01-28) (aged 93)
Berlin, Germany
Occupation(s)Musician, bandleader, writer
Years active1940's – 2018
Associated actsMarlene Dietrich, Ella Fitzgerald, Helmut Zacharias, Ghetto Swingers, Coco Schumann Quartett

Heinz Jakob "Coco" Schumann (14 May 1924 – 28 January 2018) was a German jazz musician and Holocaust survivor.[1] He became a member of the Ghetto Swingers while transported to Theresienstadt at the age of nineteen. In the aftermath of the Holocaust, Schumann performed as a jazz guitarist, with Marlene Dietrich, Ella Fitzgerald, and Helmut Zacharias.

Early life[edit]

Schumann was born in Berlin, Germany, into a bourgeois family.[2][3] His father, Alfred Schumann, was a war veteran and convert to Judaism, who was German by ethnicity and originally Christian but converted after marrying his Jewish wife.[4][5][2] His mother, Hedwig (née Rothholz), was Jewish by birth,[6] a hairdresser who worked at her father's salon.[7] His nickname, Coco came from his French girlfriend who could not pronounce his first name.[8] Schumann became passionate about Swing jazz after having heard it during the Berlin Olympics.[9][10] During his teenage years, he played for various swing bands and taught himself to play guitar and drums.[11]

Holocaust years[edit]

Schumann was transported first to Theresienstadt at the age of nineteen, where he became a member of the Ghetto Swingers.[12] Finally he and Martin Roman were transported to Auschwitz, where he came face to face with Josef Mengele. When Mengele inquired of the blue-eyed, nineteen-year-old Coco where he came from and what he did, Schumann shouted, "Berlin, Herr Obersturmbannführer! Plumber, Herr Obersturmbannführer!"[13][14]

Just a few days before the end of the Nazi regime, Schumann contracted spotted fever that had killed hundreds of co-prisoners, and he spent weeks fighting high fevers and delirious nightmares. He and one other man were the only ones to survive the illness. When he was finally able to return home to Berlin, he learned that his grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins had perished in the camps. However he found his parents alive, as his father had ingeniously succeeded in keeping his Jewish wife hidden from the Nazis by declaring her dead after a disastrous fire.[15]


After the war, Schumann became a celebrated jazz guitarist.[16] In 1950, he left Germany for Australia along with his family before returning to Berlin in 1954.[8][17][16] He played with Marlene Dietrich, Ella Fitzgerald, and Helmut Zacharias, among others, before founding his own Coco Schumann Quartet.[18] Schumann's eventful and colorful life is a subject of and is celebrated in a German-language true-to-life color graphic novel by Caroline Gille and Niels Schröder.[19] His autobiography, The Ghetto Swinger: A Berlin Jazz-Legend Remembers, was first published in 1997 and became a bestseller.[20] In 2012 it was staged as a musical in Hamburg.[16]

His French girlfriend gave him his "Coco" nickname after she struggled with the pronunciation of "Jakob".[16]

In reflection to his years in a concentration camp, Schumman recalled: "I am a musician who was imprisoned in concentration camps," Schumann said in later years, adding: "Not a concentration camp prisoner who plays music".[16]

Schumann, who had been filmed in Theresienstadt in 1944 as part of a German documentary, Theresienstadt, was featured in a 2013 documentary called Refuge in Music, about the life of Jewish musicians, composers and artists under the Third Reich.[20]


Schumann died in Berlin on 28 January 2018 at the age of 93.[16]


  1. ^ A Woman at War: Marlene Dietrich remembered; p. 157 J. David Riva, Guy Stern - 2006 "Jazz guitarist COCO SCHUMANN was born into a mixed Christian/Jewish family in Berlin as Heinz Jacob Schumann. Even as a child he became a devotee of swing music, which was outlawed by the Nazi regime. As a "half-Jew," he survived the concentration camps, including Theresienstadt (Terezien), where he became a member of the legendary "Ghetto Swingers."
  2. ^ a b D'Almeida, Fabrice (22 December 2008). High Society in the Third Reich. Polity. p. 212. ISBN 978-0-745-64311-3.
  3. ^ "Auschwitz surviving jazz star 'Coco' dies". BBC News. 2018. Retrieved 2018-01-30.
  4. ^ "Swing-Legende und KZ-Überlebender Coco Schumann ist tot" (in German). Spiegel Online. 29 January 2018.
  5. ^ Caroline Gille and Niels Schröder: I got rhythm : das Leben der Jazzlegende Coco Schumann : eine Graphic Novel (Be.bra, Berlin-Brandenburg, 2014, p. 12/13).
  6. ^ "Archive". The Atlantic Times. 1924-05-14. Retrieved 2015-12-13.
  7. ^ Schumann, Coco (1997). Der Ghetto-Swinger: eine Jazzlegende erzählt (in German) (Snippet view ed.). Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag. p. 13. ISBN 978-3-423-24107-6.
  8. ^ a b "Gitarrist Coco Schumann ist tot" (in German). Zeit Online. 29 January 2018.
  9. ^ Coco Schumann, der Ghetto-Swinger: eine Jazz legende erzählt Coco Schumann, Max Christian Graeff, Michaela Haas - 2005
  10. ^ Fabrice d'. Almeida High Society in the Third Reich 2008; p. 212 "Coco Schumann, a young man who had become passionate about swing after having heard it during the Olympic Games, ... Heinz Schumann ('Coco' was his nickname) was born in 1924 to a bourgeois family. He was half-Jewish according to the classification of the time. His father was a war veteran. He suffered rejections but took advantage of a moment of ..."
  11. ^ "Jazz-Gitarrist Coco Schumann ist tot" (in German). Süddeutsche Zeitung. 29 January 2018.
  12. ^ Jerry Silverman The Undying Flame: ballads and songs of the Holocaust: 110 songs 2002; p. 29 "Guitarist Coco Schumann, of the Theresienstadt "Ghetto Swingers," [ ! ] who survived a 1944 deportation from that camp to Auschwitz, felt that music had saved his life: He was compelled to play while other prisoners were sent to the gas chambers"
  13. ^ Michael H. Kater Different Drummers: jazz in the culture of Nazi Germany, 1992 "Something similar happened to both Coco Schumann and Martin Roman, who escaped with their lives from Auschwitz. Schumann played for a while with various swing groups around Berlin, especially those of his old pal Zacharias, but then, ..."
  14. ^ African-American Jazz Musicians in the Diaspora; Larry Ross 2003 "Later, Roman was transferred to Auschwitz along with guitarist Schumann and clarinetist Bedrich Weiss. Schumann came face-to-face with Dr. Joseph Mengele at the Auschwitz concentration camp. Schumann, who had blue eyes, ...
  15. ^ Michaela Haas: Bouncing Forward: Transforming Bad Breaks into Breakthroughs, Atria/Enliven, 2015, p. 92/93.
  16. ^ a b c d e f "Heinz Jakob 'Coco' Schumann, German jazz musician, dies aged 93". BBC News. 29 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.
  17. ^ "Jazz musician and Nazi camp survivor Coco Schumann dies aged 93". The Independent Ireland. 29 January 2018.
  18. ^ Michaela Haas: Bouncing Forward, p. 88/89.
  19. ^ Caroline Gille and Niels Schröder: I got rhythm : das Leben der Jazzlegende Coco Schumann : eine Graphic Novel (Be.bra, Berlin-Brandenburg, 2014).
  20. ^ a b "Jazz musician, Nazi camp survivor Coco Schumann dies at 93". Times of Israel. 29 January 2018. Retrieved 29 January 2018.

External links[edit]