Biographical and Historical Notes

The terrible period after the war

In his analysis of his game against Breyer, Götenborg 1920, Nimzowitsch writes in his notes at move 34: 'Here I began to play weaker and weaker. At that time I was still under the psychic pressure of the terrible after-war period, that I shortly before had to participate in as one of its victims."

Götenborg (1-22 August 1920) was Nimzowitsch' worst tournament result. In 1920 he moves from Riga to Kopenhagen. As Hannak writes, his name in his passport gets scrambled from Niemzowitsch to Nimzowitsch, but in those chaotic times he cannot permit himself to wait for a week, so he lives on as Nimzowitsch. According to Hannak Nimzowitsch never wanted to tell how he kept alive in those difficult war-years and the years thereafter. Certain is that Nimzowitsch' already weak health gets further damaged and that in those times he collects the illness that marks him as a 'death-candidate on a holiday'. (That terrible old-fashioned habit of not calling an illness by its name! I think Tuberculosis) Soon he retires from tournament life for two years. What kind of political events took place in the preceding two years in Riga? That is the subject of this chapter.

Some fragments:

  • "To urge Kerenski to talk about peace proposals, the German 8th army (Oscar Von Hutier) in the north crossed the Dwina and took Riga after insignificant resistance on September 3, 1917. The tactics used were more remarkable than the victory: Hutier used the surprise-element, nightly marches, a short but heavy artillery-bombardment, fire, mobility, infiltration. The Germans sent an amphibic expedition to occupy the islands before the coast of Riga as a threat to Petrograd." (From: "World War I, Baldwin, Harper & Row, New York.)

  • "In both Estonia and Latvia a small but authentic bourgeois nationalist movement had grown up in protest against the domination of German merchants, industrialists and landow ners far weaker and less firmly established than its counterpart in Finland, but stronger and more determined than in the Ukraine.In both countries Soviet r‚gimes had been proclaimed at the moment of the October revolution, but had been quickly swept away by the advancing German armies. On the German collapse in November 1918 bourgeois national governments were installed in Riga and Tallinn. But their duration was brief. On 29 November 1918, came the proclamation of an Estonian Soviet Government at Narva, to be followed by the proclamation of a Lettish Soviet Government three weeks later. Soviet armies, native and Russian, began to move in from the east. The Estonian Soviet Republic was recognized by Petrograd on 8 December 1918, the Latvian Soviet Republic on 22 December 1918. Early in January 1919 Soviet power had been established as far as Riga. As Riga had a large native industrial proletariat, the foundations of Soviet power seemed more solid on the shores of the Baltic than in the Ukraine. But here the ubiquity of British naval power was the decisive factor. With the termination of hostilities against Germany British naval units appeared in the Baltic. The Estonian Soviet Republic collapsed in January 1919. The Latvian Soviet Republic held out in Riga for five months and then succumbed to the threat of British naval guns. In both countries the bourgeois governments, restored under British patronage, had time to consolidate their authority. Thereafter, the Yudenich adventure once liquidated, the Soviet Government reconsidered its attitude. (In October 1919 the 'white' General Yudenich, with British support, launched from bases in Estonia an offensive against Petrograd which narrowly failed of its object. Since Yudenich's aims included the restoration of the Russian Empire within its former boudaries, his campaign met with no sympathy from the Estonian and Latvian governments.) The two bourgeois governments had shown greater strenght and cohesion than had been expected; and their hostility to Yudenich had shown that they were not altogether unfriendly to the Soviet Republic. It was decided to recognize the bourgeois governments as beneficiaries of the right of national self-determination. Peace treaties were concluded with Estonia on 2 February 1920, and with Latvia on 11 August 1920. The regime thus established lasted for just twenty years. (From: "The Bolshevik Revolution", Carr, part I, pag 316)

  • "By the spring of 1919 the hope of a Russian restoration (dwz. van de monarchie) was still widely entertained in many countries. In Germany these hopes took practical form in the continued presence in Russia's former Baltic provinces of substantial German forces -the last organized remnant of the imperial German army -under the command of General von der Goltz, who had triumphantly come to the aid of the 'whites' in the Finnish civil war in the spring of 1918. This anomaly was a consequence of allied policy which, even at the moment of the armistice of 11 November 1918, tempered its hostility to German militarism with fear of Russian Bolshevism. By article twelve of the armistice Germany was bound to evacuate all former Russian territories 'as soon as the allies shall think the moment suitable, having regard to the internal situation of those territories'. It was intimated that the moment for evacuation of the Baltic had not yet come. In the first months of 1919 von der Goltz consolidated his position (weird,such a phrase suddenly, how many times doesn't that occur in 'Mein System' or 'Die praxis meines Systems': black fails to consolidate his position.) , recruited strong reinforcements from the German colonies in the Baltic countries and from 'white' (yes, I know) Russian refugees, as well as from demobilized Germans and prisoners of war in Germany, and proclaimed him self the leader of an anti-Bolshevik crusade. These proceedings were little to the taste of the allied governments, which, having partially recovered from their fear of the spread of Bolshevism, began to be haunted by the bogy of an alliance between Germany and a Russian monarchy restored under the banner of von der Goltz: the policy of supporting the independance of the Baltic states to form a barrier, together with Poland, between Germany and Russia was taking shape. On 3 May 1919, an order was given by the allied armistice commission for the evacuation of the Baltic countries. The order was ignored. On 18 June 1919, it was repeated by the allied go vernments to the German Government. It was still ignored; and, though the social-democratic government in Berlin professed its anxiety to comply, the social-democratic governor of East- Prussia, Winnig by name, was working hand-in-glove with von der Goltz. The armies of von der Goltz stood their ground, fighting intermittently both against the Bolsheviks and against the Latvian and Estonian troops which were receiving allied support.

    (...) In August 1919 the Reichswehr decided that the allied demand for withdrawal of von der Goltz should be complied with. The order was issued, and after some delay von der Goltz himself returned to Germany. The bulk of his army remained, and took service under a 'white' Russian adventurer, said to be of Caucasian origin, called Avalov-Bermondt. Official sources of revenue having been cut off, the new venture was financed by German heavy industry, which still believed in the policy of overthrowing the Bolsheviks to open the Russian market. With this support, Avalov-Bermondt held his ground through the winter. By the spring of 1920, thanks to failing finances or to allied hostility, most of his forces had melted away." ("The Bolshevik Revolution", E.H.Carr, III, pag 308-310.)

  • "For months the German volunteer corps advanced towards Riga", the German nazi-historian Schmidt-Pauli writes. "To the 'Hanzestadt', the capital of Latvia, to the stronghold of 'Deutschtum' in Baltic country. Where the German brothers sighed under Bolshevik terror." In 1929 the novel 'Die Geächteten', by Ernst von Salomon appeared in Germany. The writer, a later internationally acclaimed adventurer, describes how he acquitted himself at that time. I give a quote that gives a good impression of what happened to the local civilians: "We went over to the last attack. Yes, once more we stormed forwards along the whole line. Once more we all broke cover and entered the wood. We ran across the snow-covered fields, we fired at random into the surprised enemy, we were like possessed, we shot and thrashed and hunted. We drove the Latvians like hare across the fields, we burned the houses, we shattered the bridges and tore down telegraph poles. We cast the bodies into the wells and threw handgrenades after them. We struck down everything that fell in our hands. We set fire to everything that could burn. We had no human feelings left in our hearts. Where we had ravaged, the earth groaned. Where we had attacked, the houses lay in ruins and ashes, there charred rafters lay like sores on the snow-covered earth. An enormous pillar of smoke marked the road we had gone. More than dead things burned there, there burned our hope, our passion, the laws and values of the civilised world, there burned everything of what we had still dragged with us like dusted junk in the way of words and thoughts, of belief in the ideas of our time." (From an article by Henk Hofland)

    It is worth following this theme of the volunteer corps a little further:

  • On january 10 the peace-treaty of Versailles became effective, which limited the size of the German army to 100.000 men, of the navy to 15.000 men. That meant a massive gradual dismissal of personal with the 400.000 men of the Reichswehr of 1919. Most volunteer corps had to be dissoluted willynilly. They weren't used anyway. They had not been recruited for the defense of the nation, but for crushing the revolution, and this they had done. Now they threatened to create unrest for state and government. They were not of a mind to let themselves get sent home. Neither did the generals who were into politics feel like abandoning the instrument they owed their political power to. In this way it came to the military coup of March 13 1920, that went into history as the Kapp-putsch. Motive and immediate cause were formed by the dissolution of the marine brigade Ehrhardt that Noske ordered on Februari 29 1920. The Ehrhardt brigade, 5000 men strong, was a volunteer corps that had originally been recruited from officers and non-commissioned officers from the navy and later strengthened with units of German forces that had fought as recently as 1919 in Latvia against boshevik troops. In the civil war the brigade had been committed in Berlin and Munich. Militarily it was an elite-corps, politically it was extremely hostile to the government. The brigade flew black-white-red banners and had the habit of daily giving out paroles that nicknamed secretaries of state. Since Januari 1920, when general Von Lüttwitz had encamped the unit on the drill-ground Döberitz near Berlin, the swastika was worn on the helmet. The spirit of this unit was unmistakably imbued with the spirit of the later Waffen-SS." (From: "The betrayed revolution", 1918-1919, Sebastian Haffner, pag. 171-172.)

Maybe this divergence seems unnecessary, but remind that if not the same people, than their congeners came back in Eastern Europe twenty years later and visited the ghetto's from where twenty years before came the great chess-players: Bernstein, Rubinstein, Salwe, Tartakover, Przepiorka, Flamberg, Lowtzky, Lewitzky, Dus-Chotimirsky, Nimzowitsch.

To summarize: The situation is extremely chaotic: In May 1919 there are three parties fighting each other: Von der Goltz against the bolshevik government in Riga, already on the brink of collapse because of British naval guns, and against the Latvian national forces, backed by the British.


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