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Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Bogoljubow and the Nazis

      The image of Bogo is often an over-optimistic beer-drinking buffoon but in reality he was a very strong player. Historically he has always been obscured in the shadow of the Alekhine, Capablanca and Lasker. There appears to be several reasons for his relative obscurity.

      He was a ‘non-person’ in the Soviet Union. One biographer, Charushin, says: 'In the Soviet press even the mention of Bogoljubow's name was strictly forbidden.' Bogo’s later Nazi associations didn’t help either. Politics played an important part in his life, even though he seems to have been fundamentally apolitical. Early in his career, at the beginning of World War 1, he was taken prisoner while playing in a German tournament along with other strong Russian players, including Alekhine.
      The players' treatment was initially harsh, and Alekhine managed to escape. For the remainder their status as chess players eventually earned them good treatment and they were able to choose their own place of confinement. Some chose the resort town of Triberg. While there Bogoljubow married a local girl and they lived there for 38 years in this same German town. In passing, it should be noted that while in ‘confinement’ Bogoljubow and the other Russians played eight 'Tournaments of Prisoners'. After the First World War, Bogoljubow became one of world's elite.
      After his victory in Moscow 1925 the Soviet chess ‘politicians’ rose to power and began distributing their favors. Bogoljubow was not counted among their favorites and they restricted his access to a couple of tournaments. Because this meant loss of income and his debts began to rise, Bogo renounced his Russian citizenship in 1926 and as result he was condemned by the Soviets and became a 'non-person.’ As was common, his name was erased from all records, including his tournaments results.
      It has been claimed that in 1938 he became a Nazi so as to keep his home in Germany, and to assure that his daughters could go the University. Also, he supposedly made this decision because his wife wanted to remain in Germany.
      Some have said Bogoljubow did not seem to have been ideologically inclined and was said to have disliked the Nazis intensely but even in 1950 FIDE didn't make him a Grandmaster allegedly because of his alleged 'Fascism'. He finally got the title the next year,not long before his death in 1952.
      Edward Winter's Chess Note No. 5515 (Bogoljubow and Immortality) contained this: After Bogoljubow’s death a tribute by E.J. Diemer was published on page 221 of the August 1952 CHESS. Below is an extract:
      ‘The last time I saw him was in Freiburg, ten days before his death. On 6 June he won a lightning-chess tournament organized among the members of the Freiburg team, for whom he had played at top board since 1950. The next day, he helped Freiburg beat another local team by 8:0 and the same evening he beat the well-known Berlin master Mross (in the last tournament game of his life) to help Freiburg register a 4½-3½ win against a team (Berlin-Eckbauer) which had successfully defeated Luxembourg, Cologne, Basle and Lucerne.
      I had a conversation with him then of rare seriousness. As if conscious of the nearness of his end, he spoke, on this last occasion, about – Chess Immortality. I discovered at this late hour in his life, and I pass it on as his closing thought, that Bogoljubow wanted his chess to be regarded as an art and himself as an artist. He feared, he said, that not one of his games, even from the great tournament at Moscow in 1925, the zenith of his career, would be deemed worthy of inscription in the scrolls of immortality. So high did he set his ideals. And so sceptically did he look back over his 40 years of masterly endeavor. Luckily the chess world will not share his pessimism. Countless masterpieces of play remain to assure him the immortality he sought.’
      In the book Bogoljubow-The Fate of a Chess Player by Sergei Soloviov he discusses in some detail how Bogoljubow's career was affected by political developments in the USSR and Germany. Soloviov claims that Bogoljubow was never a Nazi, that he himself was a victim.
      Reuben Fine made an unsubstantiated claim that Bogo had some of his rivals put in concentration camps by the Nazis. In Lessons from My Games: A Passion for Chess, Fine claims that 'Bogoljubow had some of his rivals put in concentration camps by the Nazis when they arrived on the scene in Germany.' The question remains, are there any other sources to support this claim, and who were these rivals? Edward Winter wrote that he had written to Fine to try to find his source for this, and also had Sidney Bernstein (an acquaintance of Fine's) inquire about it, but that Fine never responded to either inquiry.
      According to Hans Kmoch, Bogoljubow was sympathetic to the Nazis (e.g. insisting on the use of swastika to identify his nationality even before it was a universally accepted emblem of Germany) and was insensitive towards the plight of his Jewish colleagues whom he openly taunted.
      In his memoirs Dr. Fedir Bohatyrchuk, a Ukrainian-Canadian International Master and an International Master of correspondence chess, doctor of medicine (radiologist), political activist, and a chess writer, claims that Bogo stopped wearing his Nazi Party badge after a wounded soldier tore it from him during a simul display and that Bogo owned a radio that he secretly used to listen to Allied broadcasts. Bohatyrchuk wrote, “It was not a secret that Bogo did not like the Bolsheviks, but I think only a few people knew that he was treating Hitler's wild ideas with at least equal revulsion and contempt.” Can Bohatyrchuk’s testimony be taken at face value or was he simply trying to rehabilitate a countryman’s image?

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