Did Lenin and Hitler face off at a chess board?

by ChessBase
9/4/2009 – A controversy is raging in the news media over a picture being put on sale by the British auction house Mullock’s. It depicts Hitler and Lenin playing chess, in 1909, when they are supposed to have met in Vienna. The etching, by Hitler's Jewish art teacher, has a preliminary price of £40,000. But is it genuine? The chess historian Edward Winter introduced us to the topic some years ago.

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Did Lenin and Hitler face off at a chess board?

Russia Today, the Daily Telegraph and other broadsheets are reporting that the British auction house Mullock’s has put a controversial item up for bidding: an etching picturing Hitler and Lenin at a chess board. The owner of the picture is sure of its authenticity. Historians, however, are not. According to Mullock’s auctioning house, there are five copies of this etching. The one that has been placed on offer has the pencil signatures of Hitler and Lenin on the reverse. Experts are only 80% sure that the signatures are original.

The story according to RT is that back in 1909, Adolf Hitler was a jobbing artist in Vienna and Lenin was in exile. The house where they allegedly played the game belonged to a prominent Jewish family which departed from the Austro-Hungarian capital in the run-up to the Second World War and left a part of their property to the housekeeper. The etching and the chess set pictured on it were among the possessions left.

The etching was allegedly drawn from life by the future Führer’s art teacher, Emma Löwenstramm, and is dated 1909. Now the image and the chess set belong to the great-great grandson of the housekeeper, who wants to sell the items. The unnamed vendor asserts that his father devoted all his life to proving the authenticity of the image. The lot is accompanied by a 300-page research document with, it is claimed, proof that the paper and the signatures are original. The preliminary price of the two items is estimated at £40,000 (approximately $65,000).

Experts still doubt the authenticity of the engraving. Historians have no confirmed information that Lenin and Hitler ever met at all. Nor are they sure that Lenin happened to be in Vienna in 1909. Moreover, by that time, Lenin was already bald, whereas the engraving pictures somebody not lacking hair (Hitler would be on the left, by the window, with Lenin opposite him). The last argument, however, was challenged by the auctioneer, who has asserted that Lenin could have worn a wig for the sake of conspiracy.

The British historian Helen Rappaport, who wrote the book “Conspirator: Lenin in Exile”, believes that the engraving is the fruit of imagination. However, she assumes that the player opposite Hitler could be someone from the Bolsheviks, or one of Lenin’s acquaintances who had emigrated.

Mullock’s have set 1 October as the date for the auction.

The above is not our first encounter with this controversial picture. In Unsolved Chess Mysteries from 14 February 2007 the chess historian Edward Winter discussed the authenticity of the same picture.

Hitler and Lenin (C.N. 4055)

Finally in the present selection, there is the alleged picture of Hitler playing chess against Lenin:

Click to enlarge

Raising this topic in Chess Notes, Edward Hamelrath (Germany) wrote:

‘This etching comes from the extreme right-wing (and now defunct) magazine Europa Vorn (spezial Nr. 1/4. Quartal 1991), in an article entitled “Ungeist aus der Flasche” by a “v. Freisaß”. The article is just a rambling diatribe on twentieth-century world politics and makes no reference to the picture itself. It is not even clear exactly what the title is – either “Lenin mit Hitler” or “‘Lenin mit Hitler’ beim Schachspiel in Wien 1909”. (The “Das Oberkommando ...” comment under the picture was simply plucked out of the text.) In any case, the Hitler figure corresponds more to his appearance in the mid-1920s than in 1909.’

Such a picture should, of course, be viewed with extreme circumspection, but what more can be discovered? All we can add at present is a reference to Hitler having possibly played chess with Lenin in Vienna in 1909 which appeared on page 188 of Persönlichkeiten und das Schachspiel by B. Rüegsegger (Huttwil, 2000):

‘Die jüdische Malerin Emma Löwenstamm (1879-1941) brachte in Wien Hitler und Lenin zusammen, um sie gemeinsam zu malen. Sie lud beide ins Atelier von Julius von Ludassy ein. Im Donau-Kurier Ingoldstadt vom 19. July 1984 erwähnt Bernd Kallina in seinem Artikel die damals angefertige Zeichnung, wo Lenin auf der Rückseite die Worte “Lenin mit Hitler” hingeschrieben haben soll.’

Weiter wird erwähnt, dass sich beide 1909 in Wien getroffen und zusammen Schach gespielt haben.’

Translation: ‘The Jewish painter Emma Löwenstamm (1879-1941) brought Hitler and Lenin to Vienna in order to paint them together. She invited both to the studio of Julius von Ludassy. In the Donau-Kurier Ingoldstadt dated 19 July 1984 Bernd Kallina mentions in his article the drawing that was made at the time, on which Lenin is supposed to have written the words “Lenin with Hitler” on the back. It is further mentioned that the two met in Vienna in 1909 and played chess together.’

The original item (C.N. 4055) was published by Edward Winter on 17 December 2005.

ChessBase articles by Edward Winter

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