Letters checked by WWII Brit censor


There was an excerpt from a documentary on the internment of enemy aliens that was made by British Television (Channel 4), and shown in a 2004 exhibition I curated at Vienna’s Jewish Museum on Britain’s musical refugees. It’s an interesting view and I’m not convinced that it represented the entire story. Hans Gál’s interment memoirs, soon to be published in English by Toccata Press, present the reader with an account of stupidity, brutality and desperation. Suicides were frequent, and the view was maintained that Britain was bracing itself for defeat with its German and Austrian Jews all in place for the Isle of Man’s inevitable transformation from location of internment- to concentration camps. The perspective that the film appeared to suggest was that everyone was so busy attending lectures, recitals and art classes that they had no time to worry. This was misleading. The Amadeus Quartet may have hooked up with each other during internment, and there were certainly theatrical events and lectures – but this was common in all camps, even in many German concentration camps. Egon Wellesz’s internment camp diary – an agenda-type calendar from Oxford University – offers entries such as ‘nothing much of importance’ followed by pages of ditto-marks, until an abrupt halt with: ‘Schöne Müllerin – Zusammenbruch’. It tells us that he attended a performance of ‘Schöne Müllerin’ then had a break-down. Indeed, his break-down was so severe, that it took the offices of both Myra Hess and Ralph Vaughan Williams to get him out, a process that was neither quick nor easy. I found a shot of one of the display cases and hopefully the resolution is such that it’s possible to increase and read the contents: Egon Wellesz’s Oxford-agenda; letters written to his wife Emmy in English (to comply with war regulations) and informing the recipient that it had been opened and read by a censor; photos of the camp and a fancy entry pass that allowed him to attend rehearsals.