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The Third Reich in 4/4 time

By Mike Zwerin

PARIS, 2 October 2000 - Luftwaffe Oberleutenant Dietrich Schulz-Koehn walked along the railroad tracks near St. Nazaire with three other German officers. Four American officers came down the line towards them. Small arms fire could be heard in the distance.

The winter of 1944 was cold. The men danced and blew on their hands. The day was grey, like an old print of a black-and-white war movie... They had minor roles, this was a sideshow. The main theater of war had moved east to the Fatherland.

One hundred thousand German soldiers were cut off and worn out here on the Brittany coast. The Allies were prepared to starve them out, but civilians were starving too and the Red Cross arranged evacuation negotiations along these tracks, an hour a day for weeks now. The opposing sides had begun to fraternize. They took photographs of each other, and traded the prints.

Today, an African American officer who had been admiring Schulz-Koehn's Rollieflex asked: "How much do you want for that camera?"

"It's not for sale." The lanky, bespectacled German liked Americans, particularly African Americans. He was more than pleasant about it, but he liked his camera too.

"How about three cartons of Luckies and four pairs of nylons?"

No. That was not enough. But as a matter of fact there was something. Why not ask? A few beats went by. The war was almost over anyway. Schulz-Koehn straightened up and adjusted his leather coat. There was nothing to be lost. It was worth a try: "Do you have any Count Basie records?"




This was Chapter 1 of Mike Zwerin's Swing under the Nazis: Jazz as a metaphor for freedom, published in soft-cover on 1 October 2000 by Cooper Square Press in New York and available from Amazon.com, BN.com and quality booksellers everywhere.



Click here to read Chapter 2 of Swing under the Nazis



Mike Zwerin has been jazz and rock critic for the International Herald Tribune for the last twenty years. He was also the European correspondent for The Village Voice. Mike Zwerin is the author of several books on jazz and the jazz editor of Culturekiosque.com.


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