Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Bastards -- or are they?

Excerpts from Doar Ha'Yom, Sept. 23rd, 1931, p. 3. 
As was noted on this blog before, Akiba Rubinstein visited Palestine in the spring of 1931 and gave many simuls. His visit was a huge "push" to the chess life in Palestine -- especially to the Rubinstein club, in Tel Aviv, which officially invited him. You'd think that, this being the case, he would be treated generously. Well, not so quickly.

Above is an excerpt from a letter to Doar Ha'Yom by a man who was with Rubinstein on the ship from Haifa to Trieste (the full article can be found here), on which Rubinstein travelled as he left Palestine on May 25th, 1931. The reader signed himself "one of the passengers" for reasons that will presently become clear.

As Rubinstein told the letter's author aboard the ship, he should have received 120 [presumably Palestinian] pounds. He received 50 for expenses, and when he left Palestine he had little left, except for a third-class ticket to Trieste given to him by the club, because they had "not collected all the money yet"; and that therefore a club representative should meet him in Trieste and pay him the remainder, so he can reach his home in Antwerp. But what if they won't? He asked. "Then things will be very bad" -- replied Rubinstein -- "but it is hard to believe the club will cheat me. It's an official club with a seal and everything."

The author immediately made a collection among the ship's passengers, and they gave Rubinstein the six pounds raised so he could reach Antwerp. A letter from Rubinstein's wife to "one of her relatives in Palestine", dated June 2nd, which the letter's author "happened to see", says inter alia that nobody from the club met him in Trieste, and if it weren't for the fact that he was lent those six pounds, he would have been stranded in Trieste. The money had not yet arrived. "How can our brothers in Palestine do this to us?", complains Rubinstein's wife. "I am utterly disappointed. Do all you can to wire us the money".

The bastards.

Or are they?

First of all, how come the man -- who admitted he did not know Rubinstein personally before -- happen to see a personal letter from Rubinstein's wife? This letter raises quite a few questions apart from that: e.g. why a man who signs himself as merely "one of the passengers", give details (that he met Rubinstein and the club representatives in Tel Aviv's train station as they went to say their good-byes to him, that they asked him to keep Rubinstein company during the trip, that he saw the letter from Rubinstein's wife, etc.) that would quickly identify him. Also, for an historian, the letter reveals that Rubinstein's in-laws were in Palestine at the time. What else is known about his wife's family in Palestine?

What is more, the man responsible bringing Rubinstein to Palestine was probably Moshe "Mendel" Marmorosh, who was the main organizer of chess events in Tel Aviv at the time. He was known as a man of impeccable integrity. It is very unlikely that he, or anyone else in the club, would deliberately set out to defraud Rubinstein.

I suspect they told Rubinstein the simple truth: yes, they promised to pay him 120 pounds, to be collected as playing fees from those who played in the simuls, as well as club funds; they did indeed pay him over 50 pounds (a large amount of money at the time for a Palestinian chess club); but those who promised them money to help pay for the visit, or perhaps those who "forgot" to pay the simul fee, had left them without funds, and thus in an embarrassing situation, being unable to pay Rubinstein what they promised.

Naturally, this is speculation on my part. What is clear is that the whole incident requires further research.

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