Swing legend coco schumann has died

My life was saved by music," coco schumann has said time and again. He meant it literally. Schumann survived persecution, two concentration camps and a "death march.

The self-taught musician, who performed in berlin basements and dance halls under the eyes of the nazis and played in theresienstadt and auschwitz on orders from concentration camp guards, died sunday in berlin at 93, his record company trikont announced monday, citing schumann’s family.

For a long time, schumann refused to speak publicly about his fate as a holocaust survivor. "I’m a musician who served time in a concentration camp, not a concentration camper who also makes a little music," he wrote in his biography "the ghetto swinger". The camps and the fear had changed his life, "but the music led it, and it did it well".

Born in berlin in 1924, heinz jakob schumann, as he was actually called, got his first guitar from a cousin who had to serve in the military. "I still remember my first guitar very well," he once told the "judische allgemeine" in an interview.

He had already been sitting at the piano when he was five, but then he overheard a group of youngsters playing swing in a berlin ice cream parlor – the sound never let him go. He dedicated himself from then on to the guitar and drums, soon came gigs in clubs and dance halls. A french girlfriend, who could not pronounce his name correctly, gave him the nickname coco.

The son of a protestant father and a jewish mother was banned from performing in the film. Schumann ignored the threat, on stage he took off the "yellow star", the compulsory license plate for jews. But the pressure was getting stronger.

During a raid, the jazz musician voluntarily turned himself in to the SS, who were searching a bar for jews. A listener from the audience tried to escape, but schumann intervened. "If you arrest him, then you should probably arrest me too," he had told an officer. "First, I am jewish, second, I am a minor, and third, I play jazz."The SS man did not believe him. But schumann also remained exposed to persecution. In 1943 he was denounced and deported to the concentration camp theresienstadt.

There, the guards assigned him to a group of roma prisoners, with whom he had to give concerts for the guards as the "ghetto swingers". In september 1944, he was sent with the band to the auschwitz death camp, where he had to play music for new arrivals and during the marching off of the labor columns. He played "la paloma" for the entertainment of the german concentration camp guards while the prisoners were being murdered in the gas chambers. Only three members of the 16 band musicians survived. Schumann was liberated during a "death march" by US troops.

The musician returned to berlin. He was the first in germany to play the electric guitar, which he had developed from his acoustic guitar. He performed with jazz violinist helmut zacharias and pianist and singer bully buhlan, played on the radio and made records on. In 1950, schumann emigrated to australia with his wife and son, but returned four years later and continued his early successes.

Schumann appeared in the heinz erhardt movie "widower with five daughters," played rock?N?Roll and went on tour with roberto blanco. He celebrated international successes with his coco schumann quartet and was engaged by cruise ships. Even at 90, he was still making jazz. He never wanted to stop.