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May 2005 Journal

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Diary of a sensitive man (review)

HANS GÁL - MUSIK HINTER STACHELDRAHT (Music Behind Barbed Wire)
Peter Halban paperback, 2003, 180pp., £29; may be ordered from www.amazon.com and www.amazon.de

In May 1940 the British government interned thousands of 'enemy aliens' living in Britain, many of them Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany. Among them was the composer Hans Gál. His group were first interned in a camp in Huyton, near Liverpool, then moved to the Isle of Man. This absorbing book is the diary he kept during that time. So far, the book, written in German, has not appeared in English.

Gál was also a literary artist and this diary is very vividly written. The early days were particularly hard, with insufficient food and inadequate sanitary arrangements. But even later Gál is contemptuous of the incompetence of the military authorities. The internees organised themselves much more efficiently than did the authorities, who were grateful, for example, for the card index the internees provided.

Many of the internees being distinguished musicians and academics, the camp soon became a lively cultural centre. Gál played a major part. While in Huyton, he composed a suite for two violins and flute - the only instruments then available in the camp - and he later wrote the music for a revue which was performed twice. (The suite and the music for the review are recorded on a CD which comes with the book.) In the music we find the same wit as in the book: he records the comedies of a life which was not at all comic, especially for a man of his sensitive nature. Attractive too is his generous estimation of the qualities of others.

The most moving pages are the last ones, which he penned on board the ship on which he returned to England and normal life: he reflects on the positive aspects of the experience of the camps, an awareness 'dass unser Leben hier einen neuen, edleren Sinn bekommen hat ... und alle haben sich dadurch bereichert gefühlt, haben die Wärme einer Atmosphäre von Freundschaft und Kameradschaft genossen, wie wir sie nie vorher gekannt haben.'
Ralph Blumenau

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