18. Emigration

The Gáls arrived in London in March, 1938, first Hanna, to be followed, a week later, by Hans. The children came two months later. Of Gál's sisters, Gretl also came to England early in 1938, while Erna, who had fled to Norway, followed just before the Germans invaded Norway in 1940. The third sister Edith and their mother Ilka were less fortunate. They left Vienna in 1939 to stay with Aunt Jenny Fleischer in Weimar, but conditions became increasingly difficult there. Ilka Gál died in hospital in March 1942, following a serious accident; Jenny and Edith took their own lives in April 1942, immediately before they were due to be transported to a concentration camp (more . . .).

Like so many other refugees the Gáls first settled in London, where they lived alternately in squalid lodgings and with generous hosts, but at first they had no prospect of a work-permit. A former student of Gál's, alerted to his fate by a radio broadcast, put them in touch with an 82-year old aristocrat, who lived alone in his country seat (alone, that is, apart from his eight servants, seven gardeners and chauffeur), and ate only porridge. The Gáls spent a month there in his company, to be followed by other invitations from kind-hearted and concerned hosts.

The contrast with the world they had left behind was considerable. Hanna recalled their impressions at that time:

"Early spring in 1938 was quite extraordinarily beautiful. The sun shone brightly every single day for weeks on end. The parks were a dream. In nearby Kensington Gardens we were fascinated to see old men in wellingtons as well as children stepping into the pond to watch and direct their model boats, people were walking and playing on the grass - which is strictly forbidden in continental parks. The great variety of flowering boxes and bushes, the beautifully tended beds of tulips and other spring flowers, all this fascinated and bewildered us. In our respectable boarding house the proprietress put on a hideous long evening gown for dinner, but the whole house smelled almost nauseatingly of mutton. One day Hans found himself alone with one oldish lady in the lounge where they were listening to the nine o'clock news when the chamber maid called him to the phone. By the time he came back the news bulletin had come to an end but the old lady stood bolt upright in the middle of the empty lounge whilst the National Anthem was on. He never forgot this episode. Nor did he forget the first Saturday in April. After a very tiring morning he was sound asleep on his bed when Nelly, the chambermaid, knocked at the door with the great news 'Oxford has won'." [Private correspondence, 1.4.1988.]

A chance meeting with Sir Donald Tovey, a distinguished musician and music scholar in whom Gál recognised a kindred spirit, led to an invitation to Edinburgh, where Tovey held the chair of music at the University. Tovey wanted to obtain Gál for the university. Since there was no free post available at that time, for the time being Tovey engaged him on the reorganisation and cataloguing of the Reid Music Library, giving him welcome employment for the summer and autumn of 1938. But Tovey suffered a heart attack shortly afterwards and died before he could arrange the hoped-for teaching engagement. Gál returned to London, where meanwhile Hanna had obtained permission to work as a speech therapist. Eventually she was given the use of a house for a whole year, which at last offered them and their two sons a family home.

But shortly afterwards (autumn 1939) the war broke out and Hanna immediately lost her job. Now they decided to move to Edinburgh, where the possibility of cheap accommodation arose with Hanna acting as housekeeper to Sir Herbert Grierson, the retired professor of English literature at the University. Gál felt comfortable in this thoroughly cultivated environment, where there was good conversation, chamber music and singing. He continued to compose, formed a madrigal choir, founded a refugee orchestra, and gave concerts. He also established many lasting friendships with intellectual and cultivated people, not necessarily with musical connections, and many, but not all, refugees like himself. They included, among many others, Max Born, later to win the Nobel prize for physics, with whom Gál played chamber music, the neurologist Käthe Hermann, the biologist Willy Gross, and the dentist Hugo Schneider.