19. Internment

The early years of the war were anxious times. The war on the continent was going badly, and the threat of invasion loomed ever nearer. The authorities resorted to panic measures. Hanna had to leave the coastal area - which included Edinburgh - and Gál was interned. Aliens had originally been classified into three groups: category A (to be interned), category B (subject to restrictions) and category C (exempt from both). But with the fall of France, an increasingly nervous population, and Churchill's exhortation to 'collar the lot', by Whitsun 1940 internment was extended to cover category B and a large section of category C. In all about 27,000 'enemy aliens' were interned, including Jewish refugees, the group who, ironically, had the most reason to be on the side of the allies against Nazi Germany. The policy was, of course, motivated by the desire to control potentially dangerous enemies, but that it affected not just genuine Nazis but also those who were fleeing from them, and indeed incarcerated both together indiscriminately, can only be seen as not merely unwarranted, but also a serious misjudgement.

Gál, along with all the other Edinburgh refugees, was arrested on Whit Sunday, in May, 1940, and first accommodated in a disused hospital. After an uncomfortable few days, they were transferred to a camp at Huyton near Liverpool. A month later they were moved to Douglas, on the Isle of Man. The company included many of the most distinguished intellectuals, and it did not take long for a camp 'university' to be established, with lectures, study groups, and the like. Some of the internees thrived on the rich intellectual diet; Gál, too, found the company stimulating, but the experience was far from pleasant, given the deprivations of life as an internee and above all their total powerlessness in the face of mindless and petty bureaucracy, that appeared not to have understood the difference between Nazis and 'refugees from Nazi oppression'. He was also cut off from news of the war, and for weeks on end had no idea of the fate of his eldest son Franz, who had been taken into internment at the same time, but then immediately separated from him. His anxiety became panic with the torpedoing in the Irish Sea of the SS Arandora Stara ship carrying refugees, which was en route for Canada, as it was possible that Franz might be aboard. He also contracted a skin disease in the camp, which became so bad that he had to spend several weeks in the camp hospital and was eventually released early.

For the first and only time in his life Gál kept a diary during this period, with the title Music Behind Barbed-Wire: A Diary of Summer 1940 (see Books and Articles). It records in some detail his observations on life as an internee, and his reactions to them - the discomforts, the pettiness and incompetence of the authorities, the anxieties and frustrations; but also the human values which, in spite of - and perhaps because of - all the hardships, continued to assert themselves. Many of his Edinburgh friends were interned with him, but he also met up with old friends and acquaintances, who joined the camp from other parts of the country.

At first Gál had no appetite for music, but in due course his creative urge returned. In Huyton he composed his Huyton Suite (Op.92) for flute and two violins (the only instruments that were available in the camp). The cheerfulness of this work again testifies to Gál's ability to draw on inner strengths in spite of the external circumstances. He also wrote the music for a camp revue, What a Life!. The hurdles and ultimate exhilaration in staging this review provide a constant, and tragi-comic, backdrop to much of the diary. Despite his distaste for internment, he stayed on in the camp for an extra day after being granted his release in order to give the second performance. It was an overwhelming success.

By the autumn of 1940, as a result of lobbying by liberally-minded politicians and other figures, and also in the light of the sinking of the Arandora Star, the folly of the internment policy was realised. Gál was able to return to Edinburgh in late September of that year, a free man.