Aside from the human costs of he persecution of the Jews by the Nazis, it also had a devastating impact on culture. So many very talented painters,writers,musicians and other artists were killed because they were Jewish. Artists whose art could still have been enjoyed today,but they never got a chance.
Johnny & Jones were a Jazz/Cabaret duo from Amsterdam. Nol (Arnold Siméon) van Wesel (Johnny) and Max (Salomon Meyer) Kannewasser (Jones).
The duo worked together at the De Bijenkorf (Beehive) department store.
During a company party in 1934, they joined up with The Bijko Rhythm Stompers, where their talents were discovered. Two years later they quit their jobs and began performing under the name Johnny & Jones. Their biggest hit was “Mr Dinges doesn’t know what swing is” (“Mijnheer Dinges weet niet wat swing is”).
They made jazz music accompanied by the guitar, and their lyrics, invariably pronounced with an American accent, were characterized by humorous, topical parodies. Beginning in 1937 they were regularly played on the VARA-radio and became immensely popular.
In May 1940 the Germans invaded and occupied the Netherlands, gradually but at a fast pace the Nazi began introducing antisemitic laws. Also laws banning some musical genres were introduced, Jazz was labelled as Entartete Musik or Degenerate music, alabel applied in the 1930s by the Nazi government in Germany to certain forms of music that it considered to be harmful or decadent.
Because they were Jewish, Johnny & Jones could only play for Jewish audiences, during the German occupation,and after 1941 were not allowed to play at all. In 1943 Max,Nol and their wives were arrested and were send to the Westerbork transit camp.In the camp they performed once under the name Jonny und Jones since in the revue only the German language was allowed. In 1944 they were sent on a day’s work assignment from Westerbork to Amsterdam, during which they managed to clandestinely record the song “Westerbork Serenade”.
The song starts of with them singing that they don’t feel like themselves and that they aren’t great. Their hearts beat like the airplane demolishing yard, which was actually the job assigned to them in the camp,dismantling crashed warplanes.
(Drawing by Leo Kok, a Jewish artist who drew this picture of ‘Johnny and Jones’ dismantling planes in 1944. Leo Kok died a week after liberation day)
Below is the translated text of the song.
“Hello we feel a little out of order,
To pull myself together is quite hard,
Suddenly I’m a different person,
My heart beats like the airplane wrecking yard.
I sing my Westerbork serenade,
Along the little rail-way the tiny silver moon shines
On the heath.
I sing my Westerbork serenade
With a pretty lady walking there together,
Cheek to cheek.
And my heart burns like the boiler in the boiler house,
Oh it never hit me quite like this at Mother’s place
I sing my Westerbork serenade,
In between the barracks I threw my arms around her
This Westerbork love affair.
And so I went over to the medic,
The guy says: “there is nothing you can do;
Oh but you will feel a whole lot better
After you give her a kiss or two
(But that you must not do…)”
Even in this dark period they managed to keep composure and a sense of humour.
On 4 September 1944 Van Wesel and Kannewasser were deported on one of the last transports from Westerbork to a series of concentration camps: Theresienstadt, Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Ohrdruf and Bergen-Belsen. They died of exhaustion during the last days of the war in 1945, Nol van Wesel (Johnny) died on 20 March 1945
Max (Salomon Meyer) Kannewasser (Jones) . died on 15 April, 1945, the day that the camp was liberated.
The only consolation in this story is that Johnny and Jones songs can still be heard and because of modern day technology their voices can still be heard all over the world.
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