Freddy Johnson, an African-American jazz musician plays the piano

Freddy Johnson

From the start, jazz music was often associated with race all over the world. Begging the question, could the spirit of jazz stand against racial oppression?

Jazz was described as “musical dictatorship over the masses,” “utterly impoverished,” and “culturally repulsive.” In the early 1920s, African American jazz artists could not break through the racial divide in the US, so they took to Europe where they could perform with ever-growing popularity. The cultural movement of this music threatened the expansion of Nazi ideology, which deemed this music to be immoral. By the mid-1930s Nazi authorities banned all foreign, non-Aryan music in Germany.

The campaign to rid the country of jazz did not stop American artists from going abroad to share their art. For African American horn and piano player Freddy Johnson, who was on tour, the threat became real. In December 1941, he was arrested in German-occupied Amsterdam and interned at the Tittmoning prisoner-of-war camp.

Once in awhile, despite the oppression of prisoners in the camps across German-occupied Europe, the sounds of jazz could be heard. For many, musical talents helped them survive another day.

In February 1944, Johnson was released from the camp in a prisoner exchange. 


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