The one thing that always baffled me is the vehement hate the Nazis had for Jazz music. It was considered ‘Entartete Musik’,-degenerate music a label applied in the 1930s by the Nazis to Jazz and also other forms of music.
I have done a piece on Johnny & Jones before , this is not so much a follow up but more of an enhancement to the previous blog. I feel it is important to remember those who were murdered for their art and their religious background.
In the 1930s, the Amsterdam duo Nol (Arnold Siméon) van Wesel and Max (Salomon Meyer) Kannewasser , alias Johnny and Jones, were extremely popular – thanks in part to their first single Mister Dinges Weet Niet Wat Swing Is. They were cousins, accompanying themselves on guitar, the musicians sang their swinging Jazz songs with smooth lyrics in a semi-American accent. Their careers come to an end when the two Jewish musicians are arrested by the Germans during World War II and they are killed in the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp.
In 1934, “The Bijko Rhythm Stompers” performed in De Bijenkorf, a group consisting of Bob Beek, Max Kannewasser, Max Meents and Nol van Wesel. This is the first time that the collaboration between Max (Salomon Meijer) Kannewasser (24 September 1916/Jones) and Nol (Arnold Simeon) van Wesel (23 August 1918/Johnny) can be traced.
In 1936 Johnny and Jones started performing as a singing duo. They were discovered during a performance in café-restaurant “Van Klaveren” on the corner of Frederiksplein – Weteringschans.
Shortly afterwards they quit their job at De Bijenkorf and entered the artist profession. They soon became the first teenage idols in our country.
They could be heard regularly on VARA radio from 1938. They then performed as an interlude with “The Ramblers”. They recorded records for the record label Decca, which started in November 1938 with the song “Mister Dinges does not know what Swing is”. This song became a great success.
Initially at the start of the war, Johnny and Jones were able to perform without much problem. For example, in February 1941 they performed in Amersfoort with “The Ramblers”, but at the end of 1941 this was forbidden for Jewish artists.
With growing pressure to go into hiding, their final performance was for a wedding reception of one of Arnold’s colleagues from de Bijenkorf(Dutch department store), Wim Duveen.
He married Betty Cohen in the main Synagogue of Amsterdam in 1942. Salomon had married Suzanne Koster in 1942, a woman from the Dutch East Indies (Surabaya) and Arnold had married Gerda Lindenstaedt, also in 1942, a German refugee who had come to Holland 1939.
The young men went into hiding with their wives in the Jewish nursing home “Joodsche Invalide,” where staff would hide them in an elevator between floors during inspections. When they were not hiding, they performed for staff and patients. Disaster struck on 29 September 1943 when the home was raided and its inhabitants sent to Westerbork.
They were put to work there processing parts of crashed aircraft, including Plexiglas (source: Leo Cohen, fellow prisoner in Westerbork).Johnny and Jones found a place in the camp at the revue (consisting of excellent artists). Since only German-language performances were allowed, Johnny and Jones had to learn German. So first that language had to be well mastered, so they only performed in March 1944 during a camp revue.
In August 1944, the two singers were allowed to leave the camp, with permission of the commandant, not only for their work disassembling parts but also to record songs in Amsterdam. In the NEKOS studios they recorded 6 songs about their life in Westerbork, including ‘Westerbork Serenade’.
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…)”
A fellow artist who met them at the time wondered how Jews were allowed to walk freely in Amsterdam, without a yellow star. They told him about their temporary freedom. He suggested that they go into hiding but they refused. It was a camp rule: those who escaped risked the lives of their families, who would be deported. So they returned.
In September 1944 they were deported with their wives to Theresienstadt. They did not stay long. On a transport from Theresienstadt the duo were split from their wives: Salomon and Arnold were deported from camp to camp: Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Ohrdruf, Buchenwald and then finally, after a 10-day train journey, they ended up in Bergen-Belsen, where they died of exhaustion shortly before liberation and the end of the war. Nol van Wesel died on 20 March 1945, aged 26; Max Kannewasser died on 15 April 1945, aged 28.
Salomon’s mother-in-law, Marie Louise Koster, recalled seeing their bodies dragged out of the sick barracks onto a van, to be cremated. She was in the so-called Stern Lager (Star camp) with her husband Willem and her daughter Sonja. Salomon’s wife Suzanne survived Mauthausen and Auschwitz and lived in the USA until 2018. Gerda was killed in Auschwitz in 1944. Neither had children. Arnold’s parents were killed in Auschwitz in 1942. Salomon’s parents had died before the war. Their cousin Barend Beek went via Westerbork to Auschwitz and was killed in a subcamp of Stutthof on 11 December 1944.
They may have been murdered but their music lives on.