Saturday, December 26, 2009

Noah's Ark and Czerniak's Dilemma

The 1939 Palestine Olympiad team. Left to right: Porat, Czerniak, Rauch, Reischer (Women's world championship representative), Winz, Kleinstein. Photo: 64 Mishbatzot, No. 3 (April 1956), p. 51.

The ship Piriapolis, on which the chess masters sailed from Antwerp to Buenos Aires for the 1939 chess olympiad, was known as 'Noah's ark' since, by making the trip, many Jewish players (such as Miguel Najdorf) escaped from Nazi Germany. Moshe Czerniak, who organized the Palestinian team, adds in his reminiscences (in 64 Mishbatzot [You guessed it -- 64 Squares], No. 3 (April 1956), p. 51):
We were contacted by several well-known Jewish players, who escaped from their homelands due to Hitler, to be added to the Palestine team and reach Argentina this way. These included the late old master Rudolf Spielmann and the Viennese player [Ernst] Klein, now in England.
Czerniak's use of the word 'escaped' (nimletu) implies that, while wishing to go to Argentina, the players he refused were not in fact trapped in Nazi Germany: indeed, Spielmann escaped to Stockholm, and Klein to England. But, Hebrew lacking a past perfect tense, it is only certain that they had escaped by the time of the writing (1956). It is probable, from the context, that they escaped even before Czerniak had to turn them down -- but not certain. Even if so, it was not at all clear in 1939 that Germany might not soon conquer Stockholm or London as well. One can well imagine the dilemma Czerniak faced with such applications!

(Spelling of names follows, as usual, Jeremy Gaige's Chess Personalia.)

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