Tuesday, October 27, 2015

The Ghetto Swinger by Coco Shumann

A heart-warming and astonishing memoir of an award-winning Jewish jazz musician, who is also a survivor of Nazi concentration camps and was first in Europe to play steel string guitar. The author Coco Schumann was born in 1924. He began playing in jazz clubs illegally in his teenage years in Nazi Berlin. With blond hair, blue eyes and a Berlin wise-guy accent, Schumann passed undetected as Jewish until 1943, when he was arrested and deported to the concentration camp Theresienstadt. There, he played music as part of "The Ghetto Swingers", a jazz band that can be seen in the infamous Nazi propaganda film made at the camp. He was sent to Auschwitz in January of 1945, where he survived only because of his skills as a musician. In 1950, Coco and his wife Gertrud were discouraged with Nazi apologists in Germany, and they emigrated to Australia, but returned to Berlin in 1954 for Coco's career. From that point forward, Schumann played jazz throughout the city and became a local fixture who had the honor of playing with visiting jazz notables like Louis Armstrong, Ella Fitzgerald and Dizzy Gillespie. Schumann retired from public performances only upon turning 90 years old. Coco Schumann, his journey and his music have inspired several generations in Germany; however, until now his story has not been widely available to the English speaking world.
I received a free copy of this book from the publishers via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I read a copy of the book that had been translated to English.

I have been reading a lot about the Holocaust lately, specifically the accounts of witness who experiences the atrocities that took place in concentration camps. 

This book is not just about the Holocaust, this book is about the life and career of Coco Shumann. I have to say, it was a refreshing take on a horrific time in history. 

Coco Shumann truly is a musician who just happened to be in a concentration camp, not a victim of the Holocaust that happens to play music....he sums it up much better in the book, though!

Coco did not let the horrible things that happened to him during WWII define him. Throughout it all, it was always about the music. 

I think people overlook the many other things that happened during WWII, such as the swing and jazz club scene in Berlin, and its subsequent ban. I, for one, was completely unaware of its popularity and the dangers that were involved in being a musician during that time. 

The edition of the book that I read was translated to English. I believe it was translated rather well. Although it was not the best written book I've ever read, it certainly was not the worst. However, I feel reading it in its original language might add some meaning in some instances. 

This book gave me a completely different perspective of life during WWII. I would (and already have) recommended it to others.