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“Plumber” not musician

The jazz guitarist Coco Schumann died on January 28, 2018. He was 93 years old. It was only later in life that the Berlin-born Coco (Heinz Jacob) Schumann talked about his persecution by the Nazis. The archive of the International Tracing Service (ITS) holds a number of documents about his fate.

He started off playing the drums in popular bars while he was still underage. He loved swing music and the nightlife. Because his mother Hedwig was Jewish, he was also legally considered Jewish and had to wear the yellow star. Furthermore, without an “Aryan certificate,” he was forbidden to join the Reich Chamber of Culture and work as a musician. Coco (short for Jacob) Schumann continued to perform anyway, until he was denounced and arrested by the Nazis on March 22, 1943.

The earliest document about him in the ITS archive is his index card from the Reich Association of Jews in Germany (Reichsvereinigung der Juden in Deutschland), which shows that he was registered as a pupil until 1938. Later documents trace his long path of suffering through Nazi prisons, the Theresienstadt ghetto and various concentration camps. From the Nazi prison in Berlin-Moabit, he was initially transferred to the Görden jail in Brandenburg. From there, Coco Schumann was deported on November 15, 1943 to the Theresienstadt ghetto, where he played drums and later guitar with the Ghetto-Swingers band. In a documentary about Theresienstadt filmed by the Nazis for propaganda purposes, he appears in a short scene as a musician.

According to the Nazis’ administrative files, he was registered at Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp on September 28, 1944. Coco Schumann said in interviews that he was recognized by a camp Kapo and assigned to the men's orchestra. This saved his life. As Soviet troops were advancing in October 1944, the Germans “evacuated” the orchestra members and other prisoners who were able to be transported and sent them further into the Reich. Coco Schumann was transported via the Sachsenhausen concentration camp to Dachau, where he arrived on November 17, 1944. His prisoner registration form from Dachau, signed “Schumann Heinz,” has been preserved in the ITS archive. He had written down “plumber” as his profession. The form also notes that he was missing two teeth.

Next the SS transported him to the Kaufering satellite camp, where the prisoners had to build production bunkers for the armaments industry and sleep in dirt huts. Coco Schumann talked about his liberation by the Americans. He barely survived the tribulations of a death march and a typhus infection. In July 1945 he returned to Berlin, where he was reunited with his family. He became a well-known jazz guitarist and continued to perform with his Coco Schumann Quartett until just a few years ago.