The Salzburg Curse

Sep 10, 2010, 7:26 PM |

 the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse; the curse;
       Years ago I read a letter from Goran Tomic in which he speculated of the possibility of the Salzburg tournament on 1942 having been cursed.  He based this speculation on the short lives and sometimes suspicious deaths of some of the participants:  "
So, that seem like a Pharaoh's curse. Or Salzburg's curse?"


       Salzburg, Austria, is best known as  the birthplace of Mozart.  One of the strongest Nazi tournaments, and possibly the strongest tournament of 1942, was played at Schloss Mirabell, the Hall of Marble, a veritable palace built by Prince Wolf Dietrich in 1606 as a home for his mistress and their children.  Mirabell is Salzburg's second greatest attraction.  During WWII, due in part to Austria's willing complicity with the Nazi government, Salzburg was heavily carpet-bombed, destroying 40% of the city. Mirabell and it's fantastic gardens were somehow spared. But all that was after 1942.  Hitler was still literally and figuratively sitting on top of the world (sometimes) at his famous Eagle's Nest residence with its panoramic view in Berchtesgaden, only about 15 miles south of Salzburg. *
       Ehrhardt Post headed the Greater German Chess Federation ** (der Grossdeutscher Schachbund, which was a Nazi organization, exclusively Aryan, formed in 1933, to replace the German Chess Federation founded in 1877) and he had organized various strong tournaments, such as Munich 1941 and 1942 as well as Salzburg 1942 and 1943, Warsaw-Cracow 1941 and Prague 1942 and 1943.  Salzburg was a paricularly small competition comprised of 6 contestants: Alexander Alekhine, Efim Bogoljubow, Paul Keres, Gösta Stoltz, Paul Schmidt, and Kraus Junge. Junge, who had tied with Alekhine in Prague 1941, was a replacement for the much prefered Max Euwe, former world champion, who decline the invitation.***

       At any rate, Salzburg ended with Alekhine 1st; Keres 2nd; Junge, a surprising 3rd; Schmidt 4th; Boboljubow, who lead the entire first half, 5th; and Sholtz, last.

       Mr. Tomic summed up his theory with -
"Alexander Alekhine moved to Spain in 1943. The chess world did not forget his Nazi articles. He died in 1946 under suspicious circumstances.
Paul Keres travelled to Sweden in 1944. After the war he returned to his wife and two children in Estonia. [Only] a letter to Molotov spared his life.
Keres died suddenly from a heart attack in Finland at the age of 59. I was (1985) on the ship George Otz, on which Keres travelled often to Helsinki and further. I have heard that he had iron health and everybody was shocked because his death. After that, I went to see his grave and to talk with some people about him. As you know they respect him as a national hero.

Klaus Junge’s last tournament became Prague 1942. He shared the first prize with Alekhine. The next year he had to enlist the army. As an officer of the 12th SS-battalion, he joined the defence of Hamburg in April 1945. The First UK
Royal Tank Regiment opposed the defenders on 18 April. A skirmish took place in Welle on the Lüneburger Heide. Lieutenant Junge got the chance to surrender, but believed in the final victory, shouted: "Sieg Heil!" and was
shot to pieces. The first Junge Memorial, Regensburg 1946, was won by
Paul Schmidt studied chemistry at Heidelberg after the war. He worked in the chemical industry of the USA.
Efim Bogoljubow remained active in the German chess world. He died     , when he came home from a simultaneous display.
Gösta Stoltz returned to Sweden in 1942. The chess world held no grudge against him and he was invited for Groningen 1946."

       Max Euwe, who declined to play, had a long life filled with good work, honor and respect.

       I think the Saltzburg Curse is a long, long stretch, but it does give us a good reason to reexamine the interesting time and the people involved.

Here is a game played at Prague in 1942.  Junge was leading the tournament by a full point. Alekhine needed to win this game and rose to the occasion with a particularly lovely ending.



Below is Alekhine' scoresheet of his game with Paul Schmidt at Salzburg 1942 :

 *Hitler seems to have had a strong interest in chess, though the exact extent seems rather vague and unsupportable. A while back Tim Krabbe noted some of this:
108. 8 April:  A forgotten chessplayer
Perhaps Hitler has played chess. Cor Jansen sent me this quote from a little known book, Schach ohne Partner für Könner by Herbert Grasemann (1982): "When [Hitler] had not yet decided to devote himself to politics, and, as a twenty-year old without any plans for the future, was a drifter in Vienna, he frequented the chess cafes of that city, sitting there for entire nights. The game fascinated him so much that he feared it could, as it had so many others, totally absorb him, and take over his life. Therefore, he decided to break with it overnight."
    A footnote then explains that Hitler told about this episode of his life to his legal adviser and intimate friend Hans Frank, ordering him to be absolutely silent about it, "because the image of a chess addict did not fit with the legend of one destined by providence to change the world." Frank, Generalgouverneur of Poland during the war, and hanged at Nuremberg in 1946, was a true chess lover, playing some ill-famed consultation games with Alekhine and Bogoljubow in Warsaw in 1941. He told the story of Hitler's chess love to the problemist Ado Kraemer, who in turn, told it to Grasemann.

Supposedly, Hitler's childhood friend, Holger Vater, claimed: “Hitler always used to talk about playing people like they were chess pieces. It was clear that he was losing touch between what was a game and what was reality. He always muttered about how he’d wipe the board with the mongrels.”

** Otto Zander had been the first Chief Exectutive of the "Greater German Chess Federation." One of his first actions was to expel Jews from the national chess organization. Post, who succeeded Zander, tried to pass himself off as a non-Nazi, but, if not in fact, at least in actions he was in complete complicity with the Nazi dogma.

***  It's not quite clear to me why Euwe declined.  I vaguely remember reading once that he cited his work as the reason.  It's said he didn't want to participate in a tournament with Alekhine due to his anti-semetic activities, particularly anti-Jewish articles attibuted to Alekhine that appeared in Pariser Zeitung in 1941.  But Euwe himself stated that all the chess world knew Alekhine was an antisemite as far back as 1934, and Euwe played with Alekhine with that knowledge. Euwe also stated that Alekhine's more insidious activities came to light in 1946.  The doesn't mean Euwe didn't know about them, but it does make what Euwe might have known in 1942 somwhat unclear, at least to myself.
[In his interview with Hans Bouwmeester for Europe Echecs 1981, Euwe said:
"When, in London in 1946 Alekhine's collaboration with the Nazis came into question, Tartakover maintained that it was not for us but for the French Government to judge the case. That Alekhine was anti-semitic, we have all known since 1934, he said."]