Alexander Alekhine and the Nazis

Alexander Alekhine and the Nazis

billwall
Jun 12, 2007, 12:00 AM |
14 | Chess Players

 

    At the beginning of World War II, world chess champion Alexander Alekhine (1892-1946) was living in France (he later moved to Portugal, but the Nazis refused to let his wife join him).  When the Nazis came into power, he became influenced by them, perhaps to save his family or his own life.  He wrote ant-Semitic articles, which he later denied.  Years later, they found these manuscripts written in his own handwriting.  He could not go to Russia, as he was banned from returning his motherland.  He tried to get a visa to American, but was denied.  He tried to get a chess match with Capablanca, but that never happened.  So he stayed in France and played in chess tournaments sponsored by the Nazis.

    In August 1939, Alexander Alekhine's brother, Alexei (1888-1939) was murdered in Russia. His sister was also in Russia, but he could not contact her.

    In September 1939. Alekhine was in Buenos Aires when Germany invaded Poland. As team captain of the French team, he refused to play the German team. The score between France and Germany was marked as 2-2 draw without play. The Germans won the event. Alekhine was now a French citizen and changed his spelling from Aljechin to Alekhine when he became a French citizen.

    In January, 1940 Alexander Alekhine was mobilized into the French army after returning from Buenos Aires, Argentina. He was the coach of the French olympic chess team and played board 1 for the French team. He was an interpreter and a sanitation officer for the French army. After the fall of France, he fled to Marseille. In October 1940, he sought permission to enter Cuba, promising to play a match with Capablanca. This request was denied. It took him a year to get permission to leave for Lisbon, Portugal. He had to write two chess articles for a German newspaper to get his exit visa.

    In 1941 Alexander Alekhine wrote six Nazi articles which first appeared in the Paris newspaper Pariser Zeitung. He wrote a series of articles for Die Deutsche Zeitung in den Niederlanden called "Jewish and Aryan Chess." The articles were reproduced in Deutsch Schachzeitung.

    The articles tried to show proof that Jews played defensive, cowardly chess and the Aryan chessplayers played attacking chess that was aggressive and brave. He had hoped that after the death of Lasker, Lasker would be the last Jewish chess champion of the world. (Lasker's sister died in a gas chamber at a Nazi concentration camp).

    Alekhine defined Jewish chess as material profit at all costs. It was opportunism at its best. It was defend at all costs. He claimed that there had never been a real chess artist of Jewish origin. He mentioned that the representatives of Aryan chess included Philidor, Labourdonnais, Anderssen, Morphy, Tchigorin, Pillsbury, Marshall, Capablanca, Bogoljubov, Euwe, Eliskases, and Keres. For Jewish players, there was only Steinitz and Lasker.

    In April 1941 Alekhine left France for Lisbon, Portugal. His wife, Grace Wishard, stayed behind to save her castle at Saint Aubin-le-Cauf, near Dieppe. The Germans refused to give an exit visa for his wife. He made an effort to get a visa to come to America, but it was refused.

    In September 1941, Alekhine spoke proudly of his chess articles on Jewish chess for the Madrid paper, El Alcazar.

    In September 1941, the President of the German Chess Federation, Ehrhardt Post, said that if Alekhine would play in a Munich tournament, his wife would be permitted to join him there. Alekhine played and had a swastika flag at his table.

    In June 1942, a chess tournament was held in Salzburg. Former world champion Max Euwe was invited but he declined because Alekhine was participating and Euwe found the articles that Alekhine had written on Jews offensive. The tournament took place in the Mirabell Palace (the Sound of Music was filmed there). It was close to the summer residence of Hitler who may have stopped in for a visit. Alekhine won the event, followed by Paul Keres of Estonia.

    In January 1943, Alekhine fell ill from scarlet fever at Prague. He was treated in the same hospital where Richard Reti died in 1929 from the same illness. After he got out of the hospital, he was obliged to give various chess exhibitions and play in various chess tournaments, otherwise the Germans would have withdrawn his ration cards.

    In October 1943, at the invitation of the Spanish Chess Federation, Alekhine came to Madrid. A Nazi broadcast said that Alekhine was confined to a sanitorium shortly after his arrival. He was put in the sanitorium for alcoholism or mental illness. The Gestapo allowed him an exit visa, but would not let his wife accompany him. She was to return to Paris.

    Alekhine competed in 7 tournaments in Germany during the war. He participated in Nazi chess tournaments in Munich, Salzburg, Warsaw, and Prague. He remained in Nazi-occupied Europe as a citizen of Vichy France.

    In Decmber, 1944 Alekhine was interviewd by a Spanish correspondent of the News Review. In this interview, he denied that he was a Nazi collaborator. He said he played in German chess tournaments under duress. He claimed the Nazi articles were rewritten by the Germans. He had written the articles in exchange for an exit visa from France.

    After the war, Alekhine was concerned with the fate in Paris of his American-born wife, Grace Wishard, age 62 (he was 52).

    After the war, Alekhine was being accused of converting to Nazi racial doctrines. He was also accused of actively collaborating with the enemy. Alekhine was not invited to any post-World War II chess tournament because of his affiliation with the Nazis.

    In December 1945, he wrote a letter to the organizer of the London Victory tournament, W. Hatton-Ward, denying that he ever wrote any article about Jews and Aryan chess.

    In early 1946 Alekhine wrote to some friends that he was constantly being followed.

    In March 1946, he died in a hotel in Estoril (outside Lisbon), Portugal after choking on a piece of meat. Some say he did not choke, but died of a stroke or heart attack. He had been sitting in a chair with a pocket peg chess set beside him, analyzing a chess position after eating dinner alone. he was 53.

    A day after Alekhine's death, a letter arrived inviting him to England for an Alekhine-Botvinnik match.

    The doctor who wrote the official death certificate, Dr. Antonio Ferreira, later denied that Alekhine died by choking or even a heart attack. The doctor told his friends that Alekhine had actually been shot and murdered. The doctor said that the Portuguese government put pressure on him to complete the death certificate to show that Alekhine died of a heart attack and not murdered to avoid any controversy. There is speculation that Alekhine was murdered by a French Resistance secret death squad who targeted French citizens who collaborated with the German Nazis.

    In 1956 the manuscripts of the 6 Nazi articles appeared in Grace Wishard's personal effects. They were all in Alexander Alekhine's handwriting.

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