Chess in WWII


Chess during WWII is a vast topic and almost a trivial one compared to devastating repercussions that such a conflict generated. But, on the other hand, making note of the effects on chess does add one more handful of sand to the ocean of grievances against those to instigated those events.


When Germany invaded Poland in September of 1939, the 8th Chess Olympiad was taking place in Buenos Aires. The U.S., who had won the gold in the previous four Olympiads, did not field a team due to lack of funding. Other countries, however, were represented.  Upon news of the declaration of war, the British team, consisting of Hugh Alexander, Harry Golombek, Stuart Milner-Barry, Sir George Thomas and Baruch Wood, withdrew.  Golumbek and Milner-Barry join Alan Turing at Bletchly Park where they helped crack German codes, most notably, the ENIGMA Code. Poland (Tartakower, 1st board; Najdorf, 2nd board) and France (led by Alekhine) refused to play Germany and all the games were treated as draws. Czechoslovakia, controled by Germany, refused to play France and Poland.  Palestine boycotted Germany, but since they had a weak team, nobody wanted not to play them. From the midst of all that confusion, Germany, like some bad omen, won the event.  Worth mentioning is that Sonja Graf, who played in the women's section originally as part of the German team, was removed from her spot due to her criticism of the Nazi regime. She played as an independent, using "Freedom" as her flag. She came in second behind Vera Menchik. Several of the players chose to remain in Argentina for the duration of the war and some never returned to their native lands.  These included the entire German team (Erich Eliskases, Paul Michel, Ludwig Engels, Albert Becker and Heinrich Reinhardt), Najdorf and Frydman of Poland, Pelikán and Skalička of Czechoslovakia, Ståhlberg of Sweden, Luckis and Vaitonis of Lithuania and Endzelīns of Latvia.

-- David Bronstein's father was thrown into a Gulag in 1941 for trying to organize a strike.  He was only released in 1948, and according to Bronstein had prematurely aged due to the hardships he had experienced.


-- With the Nazis closing in, Botvinnik left Leningrad on August 17, 1941 just two days before they cut off all rail transport out of the city.  He spent the rest of the war in the Urals.


-- Fedor Bohatirchuk (who beat Botvinnik time and again in the 1930's) joined a German medical unit after Kiev fell to the Nazis in 1941, and travelled with them attending to the Nazi wounded.  After the war, he emigrated to Canada, played for their Olympic team, and became an international master of correspondence chess.


-- Tarrasch "was hounded by anti-Semites in his last days" (OCC) and died in 1934 soon after the Nazis took power.


-- To sheild him from the Nazis, Akiba Rubinstein was admitted to an insane asylum.


-- George Koltawaski, a Belgian, was in Guatemala when war was declared. He moved to the U. S. and never returned home.


-- Rudloph Spielmann left Austria during the war and sought refuge in Sweden. He died there in 1942.


-- Vera Menchik, along with her sister Olga, died when a Geman bomb blew up their London home in 1944.


-- Klaus Junge, a very young and promising chess master, died in German uniform defending Hamburg during the last days of the war.


-- Emanuel Lasker fled Germany in 1933, going first to Russia, then to the United States.


-- Polish chess master, David Przepiorka, was murdered by the Nazis as part of a mass execution outside Warsaw.


-- Emil Diemer, always somewhat crazy anyway, embraced Nazism.


-- Efrim Bogoljubov became "a Nazi of convenience."


-- Quite inexplicitly Aron Nimzovich, a Jew, was somehow was able to move freely in Nazi-occupied countries. He even visited  Hans Frank, Reichsminister of Poland, at his home.


--  The Dutch master, Salo Ladau, died in Gräditz on March 31, 1944. His wife and small daughter were murdered at Auschwitz Nov. 12, 1944.


-- Heinrich Wolf died at the hands of the Nazis. How and when is a bit unclear.


-- and then there's Alekhine.....