The Holocaust  Lest we Forget - Louis Bannet

Violinists perform in the Kovno ghetto orchestra.

       An outstanding violinist and trumpeter musician was Louis Bannet. Louis was born 15 August 1911. He went into hiding when the Nazis began with the round-up of Dutch Jews. Two Dutch policemen, after having been tipped off, recognized him from the many publicity pictures seen in newspapers and on posters announcing his performances. He was arrested 15 December 1942 and subsequently taken into custody. He was brought to the Haagse Veer Police Station in Rotterdam. A few days later he was taken to the offices of the Gestapo on the Heemraadsingel.

       Following an intense and horrific interrogation by the Gestapo it was decided to send him to Westerbork, the transit camp in the northeast of the Netherlands in the province of Drente. There he was incarcerated in the penal barrack. However, within a very short time after his arrival in Westerbork he was put on the dreaded list for deportation and transported together with 515 fellow Jews to the extermination camp of Birkenau. According to deportation records discovered in Westerbork, following Nazi occupation, this particular transport left on 23 January 1943 for Birkenau. According to the Auschwitz Chronicle by Danuta Czech, page 312, this transport arrived in Birkenau already on 24 January 1943. It is not stated at what time the train arrived or was unloaded. But taking into account that the distance between Westerbork and Birkenau is approximately 1,000 KM or 630 M, that journey could have taken approximately two or close to two days.

Louis Bannet after Birkenau, 1955

Louis Bannet in 2001

Pictures provided by Louis Bannet and Hans Vanderwerff

       Bannet survived the hell of Birkenau because of his extraordinary talents. His initial survival was a miracle in itself since only 20 people were spared the immediate indignity of the gas chamber. Louis received the number 93626 tattooed on his forearm. The rest, 496 people, were immediately killed upon arrival, ref. Auschwitz Chronicle by Danuta Czech, page 312. Louis officially became the trumpeter of Birkenau. He owes his life to his amazing God-given talent. Toward the end of 1944, with the Soviet Armies closing in, the Nazis began liquidating some of the camps, including Birkenau, literally sending tens of thousands prisoners on death marches. In this inhumane manner Bannet was shuttled to a number of camps: Oranienburg, Sachsenhausen, Buchenwald, and Ohrdruf. Ultimately he was liberated by Soviet army personnel on Sunday 6 May 1945 in the vicinity of Theresienstadt. Krystyna Henke, the author of the article "Louis Bannet: Virtuoso of Birkenau," writes,

       "This is by no means the end of his story, nor is it the only version possible. The image that Bannet has of himself and that he wants us to be left with is that he had a wonderful musical talent, which, together with a strong and endearing personality, endlessly optimistic and forever hustling, he was able to exploit to the fullest in order to escape from real poverty (in his youth years) and survive the unspeakable horrors and tragedies suffered during the Nazi regime. Louis Bannet, virtuoso of Birkenau, has survived, music and all."

Jazz Survivor: The Story Of Louis Bannet, Horn Player Of Auschwitz  written by Ken Shuldman