Sascha Schönhaus zu Hause

Sascha Schönhaus

«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