September 5, 1914
Page 21
Scenes Attending the Outbreak of Hostilities Abroad As Viewed by an American Pianist

How Olga Samaroff and Her Husband, Leopold Stokowski, Conductor of the Philadelphia Orchestra, Escaped from Their Home in Munich During the Stirring Incidents of Last Month−Tells of Ossip Gabrilowitsch’s Arrest−Perils of Travel

By Olga Samaroff-Stokowski
ON July 24 Mme. Cahier and I gave a concert in Reichenhall, which is very near the Austrian frontier. The afternoon of the 24th when we arrived in Reichenhall we heard great cheering in the cafés and gardens; all the bands in the place seemed to be playing the Austrian national hymn. We saw three men from the Philadelphia Orchestra playing in the Kurorchester there. On the morning of July 25 notices were posted up all over Reichenhall that Austria had sent an ultimatum to Serbia, and if by six o’clock Serbia did not give a satisfactory answer war would be declared. As a sign the people of Reichenhall were told that if they heard six cannon shots from the fortress of Salzburg, which is nearby, they would know war had been declared. After our concert we went back to Munich, where we consulted with the manager of the concerts we had booked in Franzensbad, Marienbad and Carlsbad. The manager left for Franzensbad on July 26 with the understanding that if he found conditions unfavorable to the concerts he would telegraph us not to come. As we heard nothing from him, however, we left Munich on July 27 at noon. Already at the Munich station we found ourselves in a large crowd of Austrian reserves, who were leaving to join their regiments. At the Austrian frontier we were surrounded with every evidence of Austria’s hasty mobilization. We found that the manager had been unable to get word through to us. As we had, however, all assembled there−that is, Mme. Cahier and her accompanist, my husband and I−and as there was a large advance sale for the concert, the manager decided to try to give the concert in spite of everything. All that night the forage wagons were going through the streets of Franzensbad with armed escort, and we ourselves saw five hundred recruits sleeping in an open field in the pouring rain. When we tried the next morning to find the Steinway grand which had been sent for me from Prague, we discovered it under a pile of military luggage in a corner of the station, and were told that there were neither men nor horses to move it to the concert hall. An hour later we learned that several hundred soldiers were quartered in our very concert hall, and that if we wished to leave for Germany at all we would have to get out within half an hour. After hastily packing we succeeded in catching the train. At every station there were enormous crowds of recruits speaking the Bohemian, Hungarian and Bosnian languages, the whole impression being one of enormous excitement.
When we arrived in Munich on July 28 we found the population in a state of feverish excitement; bulletins all over town surrounded by crowds, and that night we witnessed a great demonstration before the Austrian legation when a crowd of many thousands collected and sang the Austrian national anthem.
On Friday rumors that Russia was mobilizing and had acted in bad faith with Germany, by making overtures of peace and yet mobilizing at the same time, were current in the city, and excitement became more and more intense until Saturday evening at six o’clock when the order for German mobilization, which everyone knew meant war, was given out.
First Day of the Mobilization
On August 2, the first day of mobilization, the streets were filled with soldiers and officers in the unfamiliar gray uniform supplanting the gorgeous blue and red uniform of peace times. Food prices began to go up, shopkeepers would no longer take paper money, banks were stormed, although in a very orderly way. Everywhere one met crowds of anxious Americans, who could neither get information nor money. Every hour new telegrams were posted up, awaited by eager, restless crowds. As to my personal acquaintances among Americans, I had infinite difficulty in making them realize the situation at all, but as I have so many relatives in the Germany army and had heard all my life so much about this war which everybody in Germany has been expecting, I was more or less prepared for everything which was to come. Personally I was intensely worried owing to the fact that my husband was an English subject, although he has no English blood.
It was immensely impressive to see how the German government managed the situation. The rise in food prices and the impossibility of paying with paper money only lasted two days. Orders were given that any shopkeeper who refused to take paper money would have his place of business closed by the police. This measure proved immediately effective.
As I felt sure that our departure from Munich would become a necessity in a short time I fortunately made preparations in advance, which saved us from the necessity of leaving anything in confusion, as our Russian, English and French friends eventually had to do. The panic regarding spies was the one surprising feature of this period. The Germans, who were otherwise so calm and impressively quiet with regard to the whole situation, completely lost their heads with regard to the spy question. I myself was stopped on the street and forced to open two packages which I was carrying before a military officer. As the packages contained only camphor and cheesecloth bought for the purpose of closing my home I was released after giving my life history, but for a time it seemed as though I would have difficulty in escaping from a mob of hostile people who had collected during the examination of the packages.
It soon became unsafe to go on the street without a passport, and for English speaking people after England’s declaration of war it was dangerous to go forth without an American flag. One was not allowed to write letters or telegrams in anything but the German language. Everything was controlled by the military censorship.
I received a letter from Mrs. Ossip Gabrilowitsch, the wife of the Russian pianist and the daughter of Mark Twain, telling me that her husband had been arrested, as he was a Russian subject, and that she and her child were at the Four Seasons Hotel in great trouble. Gabrilowitsch’s arrest was caused by the denunciation of his butler. It fortunately did not last long owing to the intercession of high placed friends, but he was ordered to leave the country with his family immediately.
A Fearless Husband
All this time I was restlessly trying to devise ways and means of providing for our own safety, and found that no opposition was worse than that of my inconveniently fearless husband, who could not be brought to realize that he would actually be turned out of his own house. In the meantime Switzerland had declared that, owing to fear of a food famine she would not allow any more people to cross her frontier, so it seemed that Holland was the only direction open to us, and to reach it we had to go through most of the hostile German Empire, where I felt convinced an English passport would bring much danger with it.
On August 8 I obtained an interview with the president of the police in Munich and asked him to tell me frankly whether we would be forced to leave the country or not. His reply was: ‘My personal advice to you is to go as quickly as you can.” In the meantime we had telegraphed Rotterdam and had succeeded in procuring passage on the
Ryndam, sailing August '22, so we decided to undertake the difficult and even perilous trip across Germany. The railroad authorities would give us no information regarding the possibility of reaching Holland. My husband felt that it was his duty towards the Philadelphia Orchestra to leave nothing undone to reach America, especially as we had no right, being British subjects, to be taken on the ships which America was said to be sending to take her people home. We sent a telegram to the Minister of Foreign Affairs in Holland, whom we happen to know personally, asking him whether he thought we could reach Holland and whether the boats were sailing for America. His answer, long delayed, said that ships were sailing and the journey possible, although extremely difficult.
Three plucky American girls from Philadelphia whom we knew had already decided to make the attempt, as they had tickets on a Dutch boat, and we decided to join forces. As the spy panic had been continually growing worse and the rumor was already afloat that all English, Russian and French men in Germany were to be arrested and kept as war prisoners until the end of the war, we were obliged to resort to subterfuge to get out of the country. An influential friend obtained for us a military pass from the War Minister of Bavaria, giving permission to “Mr. Stokowski and his wife of Philadelphia” to proceed to Holland without hindrance. Although this document did not state that we were American citizens, the words “of Philadelphia,” as well as the big official seal and our American flags proved our salvation. Mrs. Gabrilowitsch and I both, although practically turned out of our own homes, decided to put our houses at the disposal of the Red Cross, for wecould not help feeling ourselves part of our beloved Munich.
At the Munich station we were stuffed into a third class carriage, although we had second class tickets, and from seven o’clock on the morning of August 11 until Friday morning, August 14, at one o’clock, when we reached the
Dutch frontier, we never saw a bed nor got out of our clothes. We changed cars fourteen times and when we were obliged to stop four or five hours to let through military trains we slept in stations on benches or chairs placed side by side. The direct route to Holland via Frankfort and the Rhine was completely closed. We were obliged to make our way through the unfrequented parts of middle Germany, and it was fortunate that we knew German to make the necessary inquiries in order to find our way. After thirteen hours and several changes we arrived at Wurzburg, a journey which ordinarily takes only three hours, and there succeeded in getting a train to Geműnden, where we arrived near midnight. We slept on our bags in the station until another train came, without any idea of what our next stopping place would be, but we were soon put out at Fulda, where for a time it seemed we were likely to remain, when energy and perseverance and our American flags got us on a train which took us as far as a place called Bebra. Here we were met with the unwelcome information that we could not leave the place until 5: 30 in the afternoon. This day proved to be an exciting one. Thousands of German troops came through the station during the day. These trains were crowded with men, horses, cannons, boats for pontoon bridges, confiscated automobiles and covered with inscriptions and cartoons. Most of the cars had been marked with chalk, “To Paris and Back,” and were decorated with pictures of Poincaré being hung, the Russian Czar annihilated, and various uncomplimentary references to John Bull. We were glad to be unmolested and slept a great part of the time on our heap of luggage just like immigrants.
The officer who commanded the station had already examined our papers and allowed us to proceed late that afternoon to Cassel, where we arrived at 8:50 and had the unusual luxury of a warm meal at the station. As our next train did not leave until 3:46 in the morning we slept on benches in the station, as we did not dare to register at any hotel where our papers would be closely looked into. At 3:46 we started off for Warburg after a careful study of the map and the planning out of a route of unfrequented places likely to be away from the general run of military trains. From Warburg we proceeded by short stages, stopping at unheard of villages such as Altenbecken, Herford,
Bünde, etc. At Altenbecken for the first time we had the luxury of a wash room, where we cleaned up. This whole day was a comparatively peaceful one owing to its distance from the center of military operations, but as we approached the frontier the difficulty of getting out safely worried us more and more. On Thursday evening at seven o’clock we reached the town of Rheine near the frontier, but in order to make connections with a train leaving for Holland we had to drive seven kilos to the next station. Near midnight we reached the last German town, where the feared examination of the papers was to take place. We presented our papers to the military officers in charge, and to our intense relief they let us through.
Cause of the Difficulties
I wish it to be clearly understood that the difficulties of our position were not caused by any unfriendly hostility on the part of Germans, but simply by the unfortunate circumstance that my husband was, on paper, the subject of a country with which he has no real affiliations, and he therefore had to suffer for the very necessary precautions exercised by Germany towards the subjects of countries with which she is at war. We in no way resent them and our sympathies are completely with Germany. In fact the worst feature of the whole thing was the unfortunate combination of circumstances which made us seem to in any way belong to an enemy of Germany, which we love and where we have our home. We were very much surprised to find strong anti-German feeling in Holland, and were even more surprised to find the strong prejudice against Germany which seems to exist among Americans.
Our own personal experiences after leaving the Dutch frontier were very fortunate. We arrived in Rotterdam on
Friday, August 14, at noon and obtained passage on the Noordam sailing at two the next morning. The trip through the English Channel was most interesting and we saw numberless English cruisers and torpedo boats, and one of them stopped us near Dover to warn us of mines ahead.
The harbor of Dover presented a grim and menacing aspect. Black men-of-war lay quietly inside the harbor and all seemed waiting for some terrible event. Sunday afternoon we passed safely out of the English Channel and are now on our way to America with all serene except the violent arguments going on among the passengers. Everyone on the boat has some thrilling experience to relate, and if lively imaginations continue to work through this long sea trip I have no doubt that the accounts given in America on landing will be of the most lurid nature. I feel convinced, however, when the whole truth is known that America will realize that American subjects in Germany were well taken care of, and, barring discomforts and irregularity of travel, which were inevitable, they had no cause for complaint.


Search Musical America's archive of photos from 1900-1992.