Carl Holzer: Artist and Enemy Alien

Alexandra Palace

Carl Holzer was an Austrian artist working in London. When war broke out in 1914 he was interned at Alexandra Palace. Declared an 'enemy alien', his art captured some of the 3,000 men interned at the Palace throughout the First World War.

South Slope at Alexandra Palace, 1920/1922, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Charles 'Carl' Holzer was born and educated in Seefeld and Grosskadolz, 70 miles from Vienna where he took a lithography apprenticeship. He moved to England in 1900, married his British wife in 1905 but remained an Austrian citizen.
Sketch of internees sleeping in dorm, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace

In 1914 the British Government passed the Aliens Restriction Act, defining all Germans, Austrians and Hungarians as 'enemy aliens'. Although many, like Carl Holzer, had lived and worked in the UK for years, they were required to register with the police. Later, legislation stated all males aged 17 to 55 were to be interned.

Having initially been taken over by the Metropolitan Asylums Board as a place of refuge for those fleeing Belgium and the Netherlands, on 7 May 1915 Alexandra Palace became an internment camp for 3,000 men.

Painting of man sleeping, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Painting of man sitting, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace

Carl Holzer was separated from his wife and children and interned at Alexandra Palace. Men were divided into 3 'battalions', sleeping amongst crowded conditions in the former Great Hall, Exhibition Hall and Skating Rink.

Although supervised visitations were allowed, the men were cut off from the country where they lived. Many, like Holzer, were talented artists and craftsmen who documented life at the Palace. Holzer's series of portraits record some the anonymous internees stationed there during the war.

Portrait on cardboard, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Portrait on cardboard, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1918-05-18, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Portrait of man, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Portrait on cardboard, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Portrait on cardboard, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Portrait on cardboard of man in hat, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Portrait on hardboard, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace

Conditions in the Palace were crowded with little privacy, but were not considered inadequate by official reports. Internees did, however, complain of poor hygiene and food.

The men followed a regimented routine with time to wash, eat and exercise in the park.

Washroom for Internees, 1914/1915, Original Source: Hornsey Historical Society
Postcard of Internee Craftmen, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace

Sports, art classes and an orchestra kept the men active. Workshops allowed them to continue practicing their skills, with some creating toy boats to sail on the boating lake.

Internees Sailing Model Boats, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Packer's Milk Chocolate, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace

The kitchens were manned by German internee cooks. The diet included roast beef, vegetables, stewed mutton and bread pudding. Some men requested food parcels from loved ones outside. This food list is drawn on a chocolate box that was recycled by Carl Holzer for use as a canvas for the portrait below.

Portrait on hardboard, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace

An internal market allowed the men to buy luxuries such as cigarettes and newspapers which kept them up to date with the war effort. However, their £1 weekly allowance was maintained by the Camp Treasurer.

The Evening News - Newspaper, 1918-10-22, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace

Following the armistice, the last internee left Alexandra Palace in 1919. Many of the men were repatriated. Carl Holzer returned to his job at London design firm Hübner’s, although he had been obliged to give up a stake in the company in return for the money and food he had used whilst interned.

Alexandra Palace reopened in 1922 and Carl Holzer became a British citizen in 1926.

Portrait on cardboard, Charles 'Carl' Holzer, 1915/1919, From the collection of: Alexandra Palace
Credits: Story

Curator: James White

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not represent the views of the institutions whose collections include the featured works or of Google Arts & Culture.
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