Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Jews vs. Germans, 1954

Source: Ha'Tzophe, 20/9/1954, p. 2

Moshe Roytman notes that in Ha'Tzophe (The Observer), in 1954, there was a strong denunciation of Israel playing in the chess Olympiad with West Germany. 'Who allowed Israeli representatives to played chess against the representative of the Amalekite nation?' Asks the unsigned editorial. 'If it was done without permission, what action will be taken against those who dishonor Israel's honor by playing with Germans? Revently someone was prosecuted of playing cards with the exterminators [the Nazis - A. P.] during the holocaust. Perhaps we should prosecute those who represented Israel in chess?'

The editorial's extreme suggestion was not adopted. This is not surprising, not only because of its extremism (the players had not committed any crime, of course, and thus could not be prosecuted in court), but also because Ha'Tzophe was the newspaper of the religious party, the Mizrachi, and was in opposition at the time (in 1957, the Mizrachi and Ha'Poel Ha'Mizrachi parties united to form the Mafdal, and since then Ha'Tzophe until its closure was the Mafdal's mouthpiece). 

But the worry about playing against Germans was ever present. Y. Y. Kniazer, who was a member of the 1954 team to the chess olympiad, noted in his diary that 'there were unpleasant moments. We didn't shake hands with the [West] Germans before the match, despite them circling around us and trying to be friends.' (Ha'Derech Le'Nitzachon Be'Sachmat [The Way to Victory in Chess], by Raafi Persitz, Tel Aviv: Torat Ha'Sachmat, 1959, p. 95).

To avoid a misunderstanding, nobody, neither Kniazer, nor even the editor of Ha'Tzophe, is claiming any of the players on the West German team were Nazis (they weren't). At the time, it was the very fact that Jews will officially meet with Germans -- any Germans -- socially that was, not surprisingly, seen as almost an act of treason, emotionally speaking.

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