«In public, Cioma hesitated to acknowledge his Jewish background»
Sascha Schönhaus about his father Cioma Schönhaus
Sascha Schönhaus is a klezmer musician and the son of the Basel author and graphic artist Cioma Schönhaus. In his 2004 autobiography «The Passport Forger,» Cioma Schönhaus described how he falsified a passport in order to escape Nazi Germany. A few weeks ago, Sascha Schönhaus donated his father’s estate to the Jewish Museum of Switzerland. Christina Meri and Barbara Häne spoke with him about his family’s legacy.
Barbara Häne: Sascha, how did Cioma’s story affect you and your siblings?
Sascha Schönhaus: The four of us each have different memories and opinions, so let me just speak for myself. I had a very close relationship with Cioma. We traveled a lot together, as did Cioma with my brother David. Ever since I was ten, we walked our dog in the evenings together, and Cioma told me stories about his family. He told me at length about his time in Berlin and about his escape to Switzerland. Since he went into detail, the story had many sequels. Cioma and I were very close until the end of his life. But we didn’t always have the same opinion. Cioma’s stories marked me. It also strongly impacted me to meet other people who knew and shared his fate. Now it is up to me, to us, to preserve the family legacy.
Barbara Häne: You and your brother founded the klezmer band Bait Jaffe (German: schönes Haus, like your last name). Did your father support your musical career?
Sascha Schönhaus: The band was David’s idea. He suggested that we form the klezmer band Bait Jaffe. He also suggested to bring Cioma to the studio with us. Cioma joined us in the recording room as a singer and storyteller for our first CD. So yes, in that sense, he supported us. But he also raised his eyebrows at the idea of a klezmer band. He had been reluctant to acknowledge his Jewish background in Basel’s social gatherings. When we founded the band, his Jewish background became very conspicuous. Cioma came to our concerts until he was very old. And he when he published his first book «The Passport Forger,» we held many joint events. We played klezmer, and Cioma read from his book.
Christina Meri: What objects do you have of his, and why did you decide to donate them to the Jewish Museum?
Sascha Schönhaus: What we don’t have is the famous forged passport. Cioma threw it away as soon as he crossed the border. But the pouch that he brought with him survived. It testifies to his escape. We hope that it will remain accessible to the public in the Jewish museum, together with the other family objects, and that his story won’t be forgotten.
Barbara Häne and Christina Meri: We hope so too! Sascha: thank you very much for the interview.
verfasst am 17.11.2022