When World War II broke out, George Koltamowski (1903-2000) of Belgium was in Central America. He then came to the US and became a US citizen. Many of his family members died in concentration camps.
Moizhem Lowtzky (1881-1940), a Kiev master, fled to Poland after the start of World War II, and died there after the Nazi invasion.
David Przepiorka (1880-1940), a Polish master, died in a mass execution in Palmry, outside Warsaw around April 1940. During the Nazi invasion of Poland, his apartment was destroyed and he moved to share an apartment with another chess player in Warsaw. He was arrested after a Gestapo raid of his apartment. The Jews were later rounded up an executed.
On September 23, 1940, the Germans bombed the National Chess Centre in London, which burnt down. It may have been the largest chess club in the world with over 700 members. The contents of the chess center were entirely destroyed. It opened in September 1939, the same month as the start of World War II. Vera Menchik, world women’s champion, was its manager. The National Chess Centre was re-opened in 1952.
The finals for the 13th Soviet Championship was set for the fall of 1941. In June, 1941, one of the semi-finals was being held at Rostov-on-Don. During the 9th round, the Germans attacked the Soviet Union. Moscow officials wanted the tournament to continue, but some of the players left for home and others were ordered to induction centers. The 13th Soviet Championship resumed in 1944.
Alexander Ilyin-Genevsky (1894-1941) may have been killed on September 3, 1941, during the siege of Leningrad. He was on a barge on Lake Ladoga, east of Leningrad, when a German aircraft bombed the barge. He was the only one killed on the barge, which was displaying Red Cross flags. Other sources say that he was a victim of Stalin’s purges since Alexander was part of the Old Guard of revolutionists.
Genrikh Kasparyan (1910-1995) spent the first year of the war on the Crimean front in some of the heaviest fighting of World War II.
In November, 1941, Viktor Korchnoi’s father was killed in battle east of Leningrad. His father was part of a volunteer defense unit.
During the siege of Leningrad, officials ordered the evacuation of all children, which included four-year-old Boris Spassky (1937- ). Spassky learned to play chess on a train evacuating from Leningrad.
In 1941 Karel Treybal, one of the strongest Czech players of his period, was executed by the Nazis in Prague.
In 1942 Ilya Rabinovich, Leonid Kubbel, Mikhail Kogan (chess historian), Samuil Vainshtein (chief arbiter), and Alexei Troitzky starved to death during the siege of Leningrad.
During World War II, many prisoners of war spent much of their time playing chess. Chess sets and boards were sent to POWs and were used to hide maps, and sometimes a compass.
Prisoners in German concentration camps made chess sets out of candle wax and soap, which they colored, and wood.
A prisoner at the Auschwitz concentration camp made a chess set out of rye bread for an SS guard. The king piece on the brown German side was crafted to resemble Hitler.
Chess was popular in the air raid shelters during the Blitz against Britain.
During World War II, no postal chess play was allowed between civilians and servicemen in the United States and Canada. Soldiers overseas were not allowed to play postal chess due to censorship restrictions.
During World War II, the world chess federation (FIDE) headquarters was transferred to Buenos Aires, Argentina. During that time, Augusto de Muro, president of the Argentine Chess Federation, became president of FIDE.
Reuben Fine spent most of his time during World War II as a translator (he spoke 7 languages) in Washington D.C., and worked on mathematical models to predict movements of enemy submarines.
British Master Harry Golombek was a pilot in the Royal Air Force during World War II.
Sonja Graf was the ladies woman champion of Germany, but she was not allowed to play on the German chess Olympiad team by a Nazi edict. She went on to play at large under the banner of “Liberty.”
Chess masters in England were recruited as code breakers. The Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS) was also known as the Gold, Cheese and Chess Society. Harry Golombek, Stuart Milner-Berry, and C.H. O’D Alexander (promoted to Colonel) were on the team which broke the German Enigma code.
During World War II, Alexander Alekhine served briefly as an interpreter in the French army.
Alekhine played in Nazi chess tournaments in Munich, Salzburg, Warsaw, and Prague.
Ossip Weinstein was a top Russian master and editor of the Soviet chess magazine Shakmatny Listok before World War II. He became a civilian casualty of the German bombardment of Leningrad during World War II.
Akiba Rubinstein was put in an insane asylum during World War II to protect him from the Germans.
Miguel (Mendel) Najdorf’s entire Polish family died in German concentration camps during World War II. Najdorf tried to communicate to his family that he was alive in Argentina by giving large chess simultaneous exhibitions for publicity.
During World War II, Savielly Tartakover escaped the German occupation in France and served as a Lieutenant Colonel (named Cartier) under Charles de Gaulle. After World War II, he was granted French citizenship.
During World War II, Svetozar Gligoric saw action as a Yugoslav partisan against the Germans. He was considered a war hero.
During World War II, Arnold Denker gave simultaneous exhibitions at military bases and aboard aircraft carriers.
Top Hungarian chess master Bora Kostic spent some time in a German concentration camp.
Rashid Nezhmetdinov was a decorated veteran of World War II and grandmaster strength.
Walter Korn fled Czechoslovakia during World War II, and came to the USA.
During World War II, Joseph Goebbels, German Minister of Propaganda, ordered German chess masters to visit hospitals and barracks to play exhibition chess matches. The same thing was happening with chess masters in the Soviet Union.
During World War II, the Japanese confiscated chess books from prisoners, thinking they were military code.
During World War II, Alexander Kotov was made a chief engineer and created the first breech-loading mortar. He was awarded the Order of Lenin at a Kremlin ceremony for his work.
Hungarian champion Laszlo Szabo was in a Hungarian Forced Labor unit where he was captured by the Russian army. He was a prisoner of war until after the end of World War II.
Larry Evans learned chess from his older brother. His brother was later killed in action as a bomber crew member during World War II.
Arvid Kubbel was a noted chess problemist. For over 30 years, the Soviets said he died in the siege of Leningrad. Instead, he died of nephritis in a Soviet gulag.
During World War II, Paul Keres of Estonia participated in several German and German-sponsored chess tournaments. When the Red Army liberated his country, Soviet authorities planned to execute Keres. Mikhail Botvinnik interceded by talking to Stalin, and Keres was spared. During World War II, it was rumored that Keres was killed. This was reported in Chess Review.
World women’s chess champion Vera Menchik died in 1944 at the age of 38 during a German V2 bombing raid on the city of London. Her sister Olga also died from the bombing raid.
Klaus Junge was an officer in the 12th SS-battalion defending Hamburg. When he was asked to surrender, he stood up, shouted “Sieg Heil!” and was shot just three weeks before the end of World War II.
After World War II, world champion Alexander Alekhine was not invited to chess tournaments because of his Nazi affiliation.
Soviet master Georgy Schneiderman-Stepanov was shot just after World War II began for the Soviets. He was shot on suspicion of being a German spy only because there was a German general named Schneiderman.
The first sporting event after World War II was the USA vs. USSR radio chess match in September, 1945. The Russians won.
One of the world’s strongest chess players was a Latvian named Vladimir Petrov. After World War II, the Soviets occupied Latvia. The Soviets suspected that Petrov collaborated with the Nazis. Petrov was sent to Siberia and never returned.
The Latvian master Karlis Ozols was accused to have taken part in atrocities during World War II. After the war, he fled to Australia. He became Australian champion in 1958. Ozols was a senior officer in the pro-Nazi Latvian militia who carried out mass executions of Jews in Latvia.
Prominent chess players lost during World War II included Polish master Isaak Appel (1905-1941), Hungarian master Zoltan Balla (1883-1945), Moscow chess champion Sergey Belavenets (1910-1942), Russian master Fyodor Fogelevich (1909-1941), Henryk Friedman (1903-1943), Polish master Achilles Frydman (1905-1940), Polish champion Eduard Gerstenfeld (1915-1943), Alexander Ilyin-Genevsky (1894-1941), Klaus Junge (1924-1945, Lev Kaiev (1913-1942), Mikhail Kogan (1898-1942), Josek Kolski (1900-1941), Plish master Leon Kremer (1901-1940), Arvid Kubbel (1889-1942), Leonid Kubbel (1892-1942), Salo Landau (1903-1943), Benjamin Levin ( -1942), Moishe Lowekl (1881-1940), Kiev master Moizhem Lowtzky (1881-1940), Moscow Champion Isaak Maisel ( -1943, Mikhail Makogonov (1900-1943), Olga Menchik (1908-1944), Vera Menchik (1906-1944), Latvian champion Vladimir Petrov (1907-1945), Mikhail Platov (1883-1940), David Przepiorka (1880-1940), Ilya Rabinovich (1878-1943), Vesevold Rauzer (1908-1941), Nikolai Riumin (1908-1942), Georgy Schneiderman-Stepanov ( -1941), Byelorussian champion Vladimir Silich (1906-1943), Vasily Solkov ( -1944), Endre Steiner (1901-1944), Mark Stolberg (1922-1943), Polish master Abram Szpiro (1910-1941), Karel Treybal (1885-1941), Alexei Troitzky (1866-1942), Samuil Vainstein (1894-1942), Boris Vaksberg ( -1942), Otaker Votruba (1894-1943), Heinrich Wolf (1875-1943), and Lazar Zalkind (1886-1945).
During World War II, prominent chess players that died included Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941), Jose Capablanca (1888-1942), Rudolf Spielmann (1883-1942), and Frank Marshall (1877-1944).
– Bill Wall