Johnny & Jones
Cousins Salomon Meijer Kannewasser (1916-1945) and Arnold Simeon van Wesel (1918-1945) were a popular young musical duo from Amsterdam known as Johnny & Jones. Salomon, also called Max, was the lead singer and performed as Johnny, while Arnold, also called Nol, played guitar as Jones. Their popularity began in 1938 with their first recorded single, ‘Meneer Dinges weet niet wat swing is’ (Mister whatshisname does not know what swing is), and they went on to record six albums under the Panachord music label. Their popularity spread across Holland until they were forced into hiding and eventually captured along with their wives. In September 1943 they entered the transit camp Westerbork, where they performed in the Bunter Abend (Variety Evening) alongside German Jews such as Willy Rosen, Max Ehrlich and Erich Ziegler. While interned they also recorded music, including songs such as 'Westerbork Serenade', 'Tussen de barakken kreeg ik het te pakken' (It hit me between the barracks) and a song about deportation trains 'Langs het spoorwegbaantje/schijnt het zilv'ren maantje/op de heide' (Along the railroad tracks/the silver moon shines/on the heath). All this activity ended with their own transport to Theresienstadt on 4 September 1944.
Arnold, the younger of the cousins, had lived with his parents in Amsterdam in the Volkerakstraat and advertised guitar lessons in the Joodsch Weekblad, a German newspaper created for the Jewish population in the Netherlands containing articles on Jewish literature, art, and educational activities as well as lists of prohibitions and laws inflicted on Jews. It was in this newspaper that performances of the duo Johnny & Jones would eventually be publicised. When the Nazis entered Amsterdam in 1940, Salomon was 24 and Arnold was 22.
In 1934, both young men were employed at de Bijenkorf (the Beehive) a well-known department store that employed predominantly Jewish employees. Arnold worked in the accounts department and Salomon as kitchen appliance salesman. The store suffered from Nazi boycotting and to survive, in November 1939, its Jewish leadership resigned itself to the ‘Aryanisation’ of the store. In March 1941, the ordinance for the removal of Jews from the Dutch business community was passed. The Germans were given the right to appoint a Verwalter (administrator) who would take charge of the company.
It was in this store that the boys made their debut as singers as part of a band called The Merry Makers performing at private events. Of the two, Salomon was the most experienced, having sung under the name Andy Yazoo in The Merry Makers. Also in the band was another family member named Bob Beek (real name Barend Beek).
They first performed together in a quartet called the Bijko Rhythm Stompers at a staff party in 1934. In 1936, they resigned from their jobs and formed Johnny & Jones. Their first break came in the so-called Cabaret of the Unknown in Amsterdam, a talent-show for singers and other theatre artists in the Netherlands. They performed at this contest in 1937 in the café Van Klaveren, on the corner of Frederiksplein.
They continued to perform all over the Netherlands and were in great demand as theatres fought to get them on stage. In addition to the theatres, they performed at high school dances and corporate events, and even performed during the half-time break in a football match between Belgium and Holland in 1939 in Antwerp. On the radio they performed for Dutch public broadcasting association VARA, the BBC (Monday night at seven) and for Norwegian radio. In 1938 they participated in television broadcast tests for Philips Experimental Television in Utrecht.
The duo played songs in Dutch and English with slight American accents. Some were adaptations of existing songs like Lambeth Walk or songs which reflected the current situation in Amsterdam, such as ‘Maak het donker in het donker’ (Make it dark while it’s dark) which refers to the mandatory laws prescribing dark curtains hung at night to prevent Allied bombers targeting buildings.
Their music was a mix of scat in the style of Cab Calloway, jazz and Dutch music and was very much in demand. It was said that their singing style came from the American jazz duo Slim and Slam. The public loved their style and sang along with their songs. As only Jews were permitted to attend their performances, some non-Jewish fans went so far as to wear fake yellow stars in order to sneak into their performances.
The war put a stop to their blossoming career and their last public performance was in the Hague in 1941 at the championship party of the ADO Den Haag football club.
With growing pressure to go into hiding, their final performance was for a wedding reception of one of Arnold’s colleagues from de Bijenkorf, Wim Duveen. He married Betty Cohen in the main Synagogue of Amsterdam in 1942. Salomon had married Suzanne Koster in 1942, a woman from the Dutch East Indies (Surabaya) and Arnold had married Gerda Lindenstaedt, also in 1942, a German refugee who had come to Holland 1939.
The young men went into hiding with their wives in the Jewish nursing home “Joodsche Invalide,” where staff would hide them in an elevator between floors during inspections. When they were not hiding, they performed for staff and patients. Catastrophe struck on 29 September 1943 when the home was raided and its inhabitants sent to Westerbork.
Westerbork was the transit camp where Dutch Jews were gathered before deportation. During their stay, the duo performed in cabarets organised by the camp commander Albert Konrad Gemmeker, who had assembled Jewish artists – many of them escapees from Germany (like Willy Rosen) – for performances. Johnny & Jones made some appearances and often sang in German because their English songs were not appreciated. The stage for the cabaret was made from wood taken from a local synagogue.
On Monday evening they called out the names for the next day’s transport. Every Tuesday the train left from the ‘Rampe’ – the track in the middle of the camp - for Auschwitz, Theresienstadt, Bergen Belsen or Sobibor. An evening of cabaret was held on the Tuesday evening after deportations as a distraction for those prisoners whose family members had been deported. A total of 93 trains left Westerbork.
Salomon and Arnold were given the job of dismantling downed airplane parts and wrote a song about it: ‘Wij sloopen met muziek’ (We take it apart with music). In August 1944, the two singers were allowed to leave the camp, with permission of the commandant, not only for their work disassembling parts but also to record songs in Amsterdam. In the NEKOS studios they recorded 6 songs about their life in Westerbork, including ‘Westerbork Serenade’. A fellow artist who met them at the time wondered how Jews were allowed to walk freely in Amsterdam, without a yellow star. They told him about their temporary freedom. He suggested that they go into hiding but they refused. It was a camp rule: those who escaped risked the lives of their families, who would be deported. So they returned.
In September 1944 they were deported with their wives to Theresienstadt. They did not stay long. On a transport from Theresienstadt the duo were split from their wives: Salomon and Arnold were deported from camp to camp: Auschwitz, Sachsenhausen, Ohrdruf, Buchenwald and then finally, after a 10-day train journey, they ended up in Bergen-Belsen, where they died of exhaustion shortly before liberation and the end of the war. Nol van Wesel died on 20 March 1945, aged 26; Max Kannewasser died on 15 April 1945, aged 28.
Salomon’s mother-in-law, Marie Louise Koster, recalled seeing their bodies dragged out of the sick barracks onto a van, to be cremated. She was in the so-called Stern Lager (Star camp) with her husband Willem and her daughter Sonja. Salomon’s wife Suzanne survived Mauthausen and Auschwitz and lived in the USA until 2018. Gerda was killed in Auschwitz in 1944. Neither had children. Arnold’s parents were killed in Auschwitz in 1942. Salomon’s parents had died before the war. Their cousin Barend Beek went via Westerbork to Auschwitz and was killed in a subcamp of Stutthof on 11 December 1944.
By Paul Beek
Van Liempt, Ad, 2019. Gemmeker, Commander of Camp Westerbork. Balans, Uitgeverij.
Montijn, Ileen, 1995. Het Gonst-jubileebook, 125 years Bijenkorf 1995. De Bijenkorf, Amsterdam.
Openneer, Herman. 2001. “Johnny and Jones: Two Kids and a Guitar.” Jazz Bulletin 40: 14–23.
Radioprogramme Damokles 27-1-1998 special, Johnny & Jones
Radioprogramme De Avonden 14-3-2005 VPRO, documentary Johnny & Jones
Article De Volkskrant 13-4-1995, Ben Haverman: Elke dinsdagavond swingen met de dood voor ogen https://www.volkskrant.nl/nieuws-achtergrond/elke-dinsdagavond-swingen-met-de-dood-voor-ogen~b10f97e1/
Two kids and a guitar: Herman Openneer (archivist Dutch Jazz Archives, died 2017)