Sunday, October 14, 2012

Helene Mayer and Arthur "Art" Lane

Future fencing master Arthur Lane and world champion fencer Helene Mayer taking a break from fencing to pose for a photo. This photo was taken in 1946 when Art Lane came back home from the war (note his army uniform pants and shoes), and stopped by Hans Halberstadt's club in the Marina District in San Francisco. Helene Mayer, like Halberstadt, was also from Offenbach am Main, had settled in the Bay Area after Hitler had taken over and was a regular visitor to Halberstadt's place. Art maintains that Halberstadt, an officer who survived four years of trench warfare, had passed on his fighting instincts and skills to the young Mayer. Incidentally, on the wall top center is some type of Wilhelminian portrait: Halberstadt felt that his fencing space was a vestige of Imperial Germany and was nostalgic for the nation that had awarded him the Iron Cross. In Halberstadt's mind, the old era of Bismarck and the Kaiser had nothing to with the Germany that had tossed him into Dachau. For reasons never fully explained, Helene Mayer, who by the standards of the Nuremberg Laws was Jewish, fenced for the Nazis in the Berlin, 1936 Olympics and returned to the U.S. After the war, Mayer went back to Germany and died there in 1952. Halberstadt preferred to stay in San Francisco where died in 1965. Halberstadt taught fencing and ran a fencing supply business that evolved into American Fencers Supply. Although Halberstadt lived under considerably reduced, one could even say impoverished, circumstances compared to his pre-war life, Halberstadt decided that he could maintain his fencing lifestyle by staying single, living in his club, and making use of the plum tree in the back. Art Lane eventually retired from fencing in 2008 and lived in Berkeley until he died in 2015.

7 comments:

Michael Heggen said...

Thanks for posting this. Great photo!

Anonymous said...

Arthur would be tickled pink by this article. You could write a great book about Arthur. I have not seen him in a couple of years - he's fed up with me. But he's the wisest, wittiest and most aggravating genius I've ever known. We had talked about recording his stories - he enjoys telling them and they are very very interesting. We even bought a little recorder from Radio Shack, but it was a digital one, and neither of us could figure it out! Arthur's mailing address: 1015 Mariposa Avenue, in Berkeley, 94707

Anonymous said...

There is a very funny photo at: www.facebook.com/ram.rod.589
It shows two elsdsters in fencing garb dueling in the day room of the senior home, caption reads: Fuck Bingo!

bmcowen said...

Arthur Westenrah Lane died peacefully in his sleep two days ago, on July 18, 2015, at his home in Berkeley. He was a month short of age 99, and had hoped to pass 100. He leaves his daughter DeeDee and son Bruce, along with his sister (my mother) Betty, and 7 nieces and nephews. I will miss him very much.

K Harber said...


I am still trying to grasp that Arthur is gone. It's very hard.

Ka nefer said...

I loved Arthur very much. He was my fencing teacher in high school, and he became my dearest friend as the result of a chance re-encounter a state away, at the Tudor Guild in Ashland, Oregon. He loved to relay interesting "factoids" :-) and he was a very special person in his dignity and brilliance, yet such an ever young, bright and lively personality. One time, a few years ago, we were walking together in Berkeley and there was an uneven surface of the road ahead; when I mentioned he should be careful about stepping across it, he defiantly turned around and walked over the bumpy asphalt backwards! I about came unglued with concern, but Arthur merely grinned with triumph, having remained sure-footed as ever! We would have had so much fun if we could have been children together. We would have been very best friends for our similar temperaments and values.
I was a struggling single mom, and a generation or two behind, but an army veteran like Arthur, and likewise a U.C. Berkeley grad, and likewise a lover of virtue and higher intellect and grace. Arthur Westenrah Lane was a remarkably graceful person. There was a term Arthur coined in some regard to fencing that sounded like a wonderful and quite graceful sounding title for his biography: "Elegant by Accident"
Arthur was unique in his simultaneous hauteur and humility. He said he never referred to himself as a maestro, due to some professional technicality or other. He referred to himself as a fencing instructor. He did not wish to aggrandize himself, but he really was a maestro. Also, his quiet and sure caring for people that might never have realized how much he cared. For example, Arthur kept careful fencing records of every student he had ever taught over the decades and saved them all - he once got a file from his cabinet and showed me an old piece of paper filled out in pencil with columns and the names of my classmates & myself, our attendance & other info, back from the 1970's.
Arthur was one of the greatest influences of my life, and in my son's life too, as a result. People who help us become better bring their influence to all our succeeding generations as a result. I am eternally indebted to Arthur Westenrah Lane. He has been a bright light in many lives as well as mine and will be forever.

Diligent Blogger said...

Thank you everyone for your kind and insightful comments. Art always seemed like he would go on forever. If you you all like we can share our thoughts on Arthur. You can drop me, Mitch, a line at mkief (at sign)MSN dot COM.