The scion of a wealthy German family with manufacturing interests, Hans Halberstadt took up the sport of fencing as a young man in his home town of Offenbach en Main. He competed for Germany at the 1924 Olympic Games on the epee and sabre teams and in the individual epee.
A raconteur and man on leisure, he claimed to have had a locker in every major club in Europe, so that he might travel freely without the encumbrance of a fencing equipment bag. A decorated war hero from the First World War, Hans was taken by the Nazis in 1937 and informed – he claimed not to have known – that he was of Jewish heritage.READ MORE...
Friends in high places or bribes got him out of an internment camp and eventually onto a boat out of Rotterdam that took him to New York. After a cross country bus ride, he joined his brother and sister who had earlier relocated to San Francisco.
Hans arrived in January of 1940, penniless and with no occupation other than fencing. He opened the Halberstadt Fencers Club in 1941, living in the back of the rented space, and remained there as teacher until his passing in 1966. His club became the center of the San Francisco fencing community and flourished in his lifetime. It continued on after his death and remains today the longest continually operating fencing club on the West Coast.
If you have ever taken the time to peruse the backlog of stories on this site, you may have run across a few older posts that had collections of newspaper comics that include a fencing reference. Well, it’s that time again!
Typically, US National Foil Champions are reasonably well documented, particularly in their home town. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Alfred R. Snyder, 1944 US foil champion.
Of the 13 million Germans mobilized for the First World War, over half were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Hans Halberstadt and other survivors jumped into the Roaring Twenties with gusto.
There is a great photo hanging on the wall at the Halberstadt Fencers Club on South Van Ness in San Francisco that I’ve always admired. It shows four fencing masters sitting and watching a tournament at the Funke Fencing Academy when it was on Geary Blvd in the City.
I confess, I don’t know a whole lot about Kendo. Outside of the countless samurai films I’ve seen (which I don’t pretend are representative of Kendo), I’ve only been around the sport a couple of times.
It’s a common enough name. By searching the White Pages for Greco in San Mateo, CA, it returns 388 records. Widen it to the whole of the US and there’s over 36,000. In the fencing world though, one family has a lock on who you think of when putting the names “Greco” and “Fencing” together.
Tommy Angell was the type of person who overcame obstacles. It doesn’t seem to matter how challenging things may have been; she simply took them on and beat them. Not just took them on; she seems to have sought them out and demolished them.
The mystery to me today is fencing master John Mckee from Southern California who trained hundreds and hundreds of fencers over decades. For all the people he taught and all the times he was in the paper, it’s his nature and character that I can’t get a handle on.
As many times as I’ve mentioned the Halberstadt Scrapbooks on this website over the years, I was shocked to realize that I have not, until now, written a defining story about what they are and (to me, at least) their significance.
Have something to share or add? Our goal is to capture the stories we know are out there. Plus photos, videos, home movies, posters—you name it. All this material helps preserve the stories of West Coast fencing.
Want to know when we publish a story? Or release a new documentary? Sign up for our email list and we’ll keep you posted.