The Comedian Harmonists: Epilogue

Once the original members of the Comedian Harmonists were dispersed by the consequences of Fascism in Europe, two groups, each featuring a core of three original members, resulted.

Robert Biberti, Ari Leschnikoff, and Erwin Bootz remained in Germany, added new members, and became "Das Meistersextett."  As non-jews, these gentleman were able to continue without interference and Das Meistersextett continued to be popular with concert audiences.  Indeed, the group's billing often included a sub-reference to them as the "Comedian Harmonists," sometimes even in larger letters than "Das Meistersextett."  In this photo, we see Bootz at the piano, Leschnikoff next to him, and Biberti at the other end.  How an admirer of the original group could sit in the audience, facing this stunning juxtaposition of images, and enjoy himself, is among the many questions from this period that continue to elude a rational answer.

Once outside of Germany, Harry Frommermann, reformed his Comedian Harmonists as an "exile" group, initially headquartered in Vienna, which included Erich Collin and Roman Cycowski.  The continuing popularity of their brilliant performances created sufficient demand to take them all over free Europe and as far afield as Argentina, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and the United States.  Ultimately, the "Anschluss" between Germany and Austria forced the group to flee to Switzerland, thereafter establishing a new headquarters in London.

Seen here is a poster from their appearance in Perth, Australia, as the "Comedy Harmonists," where the program included such numbers as "You Are My Lucky Star," "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off," and the two Disney tunes from "Snow White" mentioned on the main page as being on the Australian "Virtuosi In Harmony" all-English language record album.

Harry Frommermann and Erich Collin attempted to re-form the group once again in 1947, but the venture was not successful, producing only one recording, "The Donkey Serenade," backed with "You And The Night And The Music."  Frommerman then became a naturalized citizen of the United States, changing his name to "Frohman."  As late as 1951, he was heading a coed group, "Harry Frohman and his Harmonists," seen above performing in 1950 on Radio Rome, in Rome, Italy.

Erich Abraham Collin died in 1961, by which time Ari Leschnikoff had returned to Sofia, Bulgaria.  He was rediscovered there in 1965 and brought to East Germany to be honored.  Erwin Bootz, after a long residence in Canada, returned to Hamburg, while Robert Biberti remained in Berlin.  Harry Frohman fell on hard times in New York and returned to Bremen, Germany in 1960.

Marc Alexander, the grandson of Mr. Collin, the second tenor of the Comedian Harmonists, visited this page in the Fall of 1997 and was kind enough to send me the following information:

Eberhard Fechner, who wrote the book about The Comedian Harmonists, ... came to the United States and interviewed my grandmother ... and Eric's sister, Anne Marie Collin.   Fechner determined that all six original members of the group survived the war, though perhaps only Roman was still alive.  Eric passed away in 1960 or 61.

One of the members of the group, Josef Roman Cycowski, is 96, and lives in Palm Springs.   He was, till not so very long ago, the oldest practicing cantor in the United States, but I am told he is now retired and not in the best health.  However, I attended the opening of Harmony at the La Jolla Playhouse last week, and the production received a nice note from Roman.  Thank you for spreading information about this wonderful group -- they were a bright light in a dark time.

The photo shows Roman and his wife Mary in Palm Springs, 1976.  Mr. Cycowski passed away in November 1998 at the age of 97.  He is believed to have been the last surviving member of the original group.

The story of the Comedian Harmonists is at once exhilarating and profoundly disturbing.  I can say it no better -- "they were a bright light in a dark time."

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This page created and maintained by Jim Lowe
First appearance: January 12, 1998
Last updated: May 21, 1999

© 1998 by James R. Lowe, who reserves all rights to the content of this page not successfully claimed by others.