At the same time that my brother Jerome told me about finding the Hermann Gebler letter, he mentioned the Irish writer Carlo Gebler. I was aware that Carlo was a wellknown Irish writer –himself the son of two writers, Ernest Gebler and the much better known Edna O’Brien.
Jer had apparently sent a copy of the HG letter to Carlo, hoping no doubt that Carlo might have some extra information: Carlo was not to reply for a year or so.
But, somehow, Jer discovered that Carlo had written a memoir of his unhappy relationship with father Ernest, entitled “Father and I” (Methuen, 2000). This was interesting. Now Jer, sister Ros, and I were all reading Carlo’s book. We all sensed there was an interesting story to be discovered, and I had quickly determined that I wanted to tell the story.
I read “Father and I” for the story. I also read it for Gebler information, in particular, information about Hermann. Oddly, Carlo does not once mention the name Hermann.
Certain facts in Carlo’s life determined the kind of story he was able to tell. His father Ernest, who was born in Dublin in 1914, was a Marxist-Stalinist with strong anti-capitalist ideas. He won’t allow the young boy Carlo to play with capitalist war-machine toy soldiers, or to eat sweets/candy.
Carlo’s mother, Edna O’Brien, for her part, wrote some “sexy” books, starting in the sixties, that really upset the Catholic Church –to the extent that they burned several of them publicly, and generally denounced Edna, into the bargain.
Consequently it is not hard to imagine that both mother and father felt quite disconnected from their religious roots –Catholic, in Edna’s case, and Jewish in the case of Ernest. At least, my family all understood the Geblers to be Jewish –though this would be seriously challenged in the course of my research.
Carlo in his book seems unsure –to say the least. The best he can do –in an early chapter about the early Gebler family in which he talks about earlier Geblers being pressured to move from Armenia by the Turks, and how they pass through the Balkans and end up in Czechoslovakia– is, in the briefest of allusions, is to posit that the Geblers “may or may not” have been Jews. (If memory serves me correctly, at no other point in the entire book does Carlo return to the possibility –which seems to signify something, but quite what is not easily articulated at this point.)
Apparently, Carlo’s grandfather, Adolf or Adolphe (born circa 1890), was a musical prodigy. He played the clarinet, and was earning his living all over Europe with his instrument while still in his teens. Adolphe had a younger brother Hermann who played both violin and viola.
Here a certain note of divergence enters the picture, a possible tension that may or may not have played into the family dynamic, or at least into the relationship of the brothers Adolphe and Hermann.
In 1910, Adolphe –now living in London– lands a gig in Dublin, playing in the theatre orchestra for a season of Franz Lehar’s “The Merry Widow”. Meanwhile younger brother Hermann heads for a considerably tonier Frankfurt Conservatory, where, in 1915, he was part of a quartet that premiered the first composition by a young Paul Hindemith.
In the next segment I will complete my take on Carlo’s “Father and I” book, and introduce some surprising and unexpected elements into the story.