Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Bondarevsky and Collaboration, part 3.

Further to my posts of 20th October and 24th September, it appears likely that the tournament Bondarevsky won took place in February and March of 1942. I have found a Russian language website providing a diary. Before providing the link, I should caution the reader that it is flagged as potentially malicious; no one should access it without adequate Internet security, the diary is available here. The dates given on that page are 16th February to 13th March, 1942. Another site provides a tournament cross-table. It also provides a PGN of some of the games. Note that this gives slightly different dates; beginning one day later and ending one day earlier. That could be due to opening and closing ceremonies, there is not necessarily an inconsistency between the two versions.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, I am inclined to accept the veracity of these accounts. This does, however, give rise to a further question. Did Bondarevsky have time to travel to Romania and Hungary? Rostov fell on 20th/21st November 1941 to the Nazis, it was recaptured on the 27th November by the Soviets. (In my post of 24th September, I wrote that Von Runstedt, the commander of the Nazi Army Group South, resigned following this Soviet victory. It would have been more precise to have written that, under pressure, expecting to be sacked, he asked Hitler to relieve him of his command if the dictator had lost confidence in his judgement. The resignation was more of a dismissal.)

I am sceptical that three months was sufficient time to travel these distances over a poor road network in the difficult weather that prevailed in the autumn and winter of 1941-2. Even Heinrich Himmler, Reichfuhrer-SS, found he was slowed down when making an inspection due to the poor state of the roads. Travelling by train was even less practical. The Soviet rail track was broad gauged, the Nazis used a narrow gauge; the advancing Axis forces had to convert rail lines so that their rolling stock could use it. Note, as well, that the Soviet rail system was better developed for north-south communications. The Nazis tried to compensate through the building of Thoroughfare Four, a little known history within WWII. An entire chapter is given over to it in the book The Shoah In Ukraine (ISBN 978-0-253-22268-8), a joint effort by several academics. The author of that chapter is Andrej Angrick (a brief biography is available here). This vast road project was planned to start in Lviv (German Lemberg, Russian Lvov) and end in Tagangrog (not far from Rostov), a distance of some 1360 miles. Work only began in September 1941, ostensibly under the Todt organisation, which was then responsible for such undertakings. Slave labour was used (to give an idea of the eventual size of this scheme, in July 1943 there were 140,000 slaves, 12,000 local policemen overseeing them and a few Germans in charge), progress was repeatedly slowed down by the SS seizing slaves in order to kill them; murder enjoying a higher priority than supplying the Wehrmacht on the front line.

A further reason for my doubts are that Romania and Hungary enjoyed troubled relations during WWII. The Nazis had to be careful when it came to positioning the forces of the two allies, they were quite likely to shoot at one another. Without going into too much detail, both countries claimed Transylvania, it had been part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire before the Great War (1914-18), but was awarded to Romania following the Treaty of Trianon (1920). The Second Vienna Award (1940) returned to Hungary half of Transylvania. The Hungarian regent Admiral Horthy greeted with satisfaction the news of very heavy Romanian army losses during the siege of Odessa (David Stahel in his book Kiev 1941, ISBN 978-1-107-01459-6, gives on page 315 a figure of 98,000 casualties suffered by the Romanian Fourth Army when capturing that city). It would not have been straightforward to have travelled between these two countries. It might well have required German intervention. The whole thing strikes me as unlikely, but not impossible should a chess playing German of sufficient rank have taken an interest.

Image scanned from page 282 of Paul Carrell's book Hitler's War on Russia.

Where, then, would Bondarevsky have played Troianescu? Observing that Romanian troops supported the Nazi push into the Crimea and near the Sea of Azov in late 1941. It seems to me more probable that Bondarevsky played Troianescu close to Rostov, the distance being more manageable. Nonetheless, there are more uncertainties than I should care for. Was there really time to print pamphlets? Was Bondarevsky in uniform when he encountered the Axis; if not, why not? One thing I don't have trouble understanding is that Bondarevsky could have convinced the Nazis that he was anti-Soviet. When one says Rostov, one immediately thinks of the Don Cossacks, who were oppressed in Stalin's Soviet Union, and not just during Stalin's anti-Kulak drives. They suffered, too, in the artificial famine of 1932-3. Some Cossacks did fight for the Nazis.

Given the fluidity of the front line in the winter of 1941-2, it would not have been hard for Bondarevsky to have slipped through the front lines. The dreadful weather acting as cover, assuming the Red Army did not simply overrun wherever Bondarevsky was staying. It would be speculative as to why it took a year to arrest Bondarevsky.

It's true that one source, Damsky, is perhaps too slender a reed for so much conjecture; however, he was considered a reliable recorder of chess history in his lifetime.

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