Saturday, February 7, 2009

Keniazer about Amsterdam, 1954

Israel Yosef Keniazer was one of the stronger players in Palestine and Israel, strong enough to play on the Israeli (or Palestinian) team in the Amsterdam Olympiad (1954) and in other top events, such as the 1952 Israel Masters' tourament.

His poor showing in that tournament (2.5/9) was the reason he was not chosen for the 1952 Olympiad team. Zvi Bar-Shira had told me that that Keniazer claimed he was misled into thinking it was a training tournament (tacharut imunim) and not a masters' tournament (i.e., informal qualifying event -- tacharut amanim). If he had known, he would not have played experimental opening lines!

(How seriously to take this story, I do not know. Bar-Shira is a witness, but another interviewee who knew Keniazer well and wishes to remain anonymous told me that Keniazer was a very gentle man -- this story doesn't seem to fit with his character.)

Keniazer was older than even the "old guard" -- he was born in 1895 or 1896: Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia gives no birth date, but Raafi Persitz's book about Keniazer (see the post about Persitz for details) mentions (p. 9) that he was "a youth of 15" in 1911.

In any case, Keniazer's diary -- quoted (pp. 94-96) in the same book -- gives a fascinating picture about what it was like, to be a Jew from Israel in Europe so soon after the end of the second world war -- and the beginning of the cold war. After much praise of the event, its organizers, and the general positive attitude of the press and the populace, he adds:

'There were unpleasant moments. We didn't shake the Germans' hands, despite the fact that they kept wanting to make friends. There was one player, an assimilated Jew, who explicitly asked us not to get close to him, lest his Jewishness -- which everybody actually knew about -- be emphasized; a tragi-comic situation. I had a conversation with a Dutch lady who could did not believe I have a daughter and granddaughters, because she was under the impression "Israel is one large kibbutz [agricultural commune--A.P.] where children are kept separated from their parents. I told her that in Holland, too, not everybody walks in wooden shoes, nor do windmills take up all the space. We felt the Russian Jews are dying to speak with us, but self-preservation stopped them.'

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