Petra Korchnoi dies at 93

by Frederic Friedel
3/19/2021 – It is with great sadness that we announce the death of Petra Korchnoi – Petronella Leeuwerik before her marriage to the two-fold World Championship Challenger. She was a remarkable personality and a great friend, and will be sorely missed. The pink framing of her obituary picture has a reason: it was promised to her a few years before her passing.

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In my obituary Viktor Korchnoi dies at 85 (6.6.2016) I wrote:

I got to know Viktor Lvovich shortly after his defection, when he visited Hamburg. We got on well, shared a slightly deviant sense of humour, with myself enjoying his sometimes caustic and rude remarks. He always spoke to me in German, even if I started the conversation in English.

Viktor Korchnoi and Petra at the ChessBase Christmas dinner in Hamburg

At some stage I got to know his wife Petra, who quickly became one of my best friends in the chess world. I have always sought and enjoying her company, joking and flirting. 

When I met Viktor and Petra in Zurich in February this year [2016], he was frailer than I had ever seen him before. When he saw me he simply smiled and shrugged his shoulders: "What you gonna do?" was the meaning of that shrug. Petra, who is a couple of years older, was also uncharacteristically shaky, and I found myself helping her to her armchair or through doors. When I commented on Victor's feebleness she said to me: "I only hope he dies before me, Frederic." "Why?" I protested. "Because I do not know who could care for him if I am gone."

I need to explain the thumbnail I have made for the front page. During that last meeting we spoke extensively about death and the perceived brevity of our sojourn on earth. She said that she was now preparing for the end, and at some stage, to lighten the conversation, I told her that when it happened I would write her eulogy "and frame your picture in pink" (she was wearing a scarf in her favourite pink colour). She laughed and said: "Yes, you do that!" – "I'm just kidding," I said. But she was insistent: "Please do it. That will be a nice token to our friendship, Frederic."

In my interview Knowing Chess Greats Part I, this is the story I told: 

Prof. Havanur: When you talk about Viktor, one person you can't miss is his companion, his soulmate Petra. Did you meet her too?

Frederic Friedel: Of course I met her. Petra is a very special friend of mine. You know she had very cleverly made friends with Viktor. They met in a simultaneous exhibition where she had a book which she knew he admired! He kept looking at it, and afterwards they got into a conversation, became friends, and then got married. Petra was always with him. Even in her eighties Petra was a superbly elegant person. She would sit there, reading a book, and I would go over and flirt with her. We were just very, very good friends – I was always looking for her companionship, she was looking for me.

I remember this one time we were driving through Austria, I think Linz. We were having a nice conversation, and suddenly I see a tear run down her cheek. I asked her if she was alright, and she pointed to a building and said, "That's where I got arrested. I was a young student, and after the war I was crossing the Soviet zone to come to Berlin. They stopped me there and checked my passport and everything, and said I was a spy." They sent her to a prison of war camp, Vorkuta in Northern Siberia, with horrible conditions, for some eight years or so. She learnt Russian, only formal Russian, because she refused to speak to her captors in informal Russian. She survived and came back. It was very moving to drive past the building where she was arrested.

Petra is still alive. She was slightly older than Viktor. I haven't met her in the last two years. The next time I am in Zurich, if she cannot make it to the tournament, I will go to her home. If she is completely infirm it doesn't matter. I want to see her one more time.

I reached out to Petra in the fateful year 2020. The Zurich Chess Festival had been cancelled, and I sought to meet her privately in Switzerland. But Covid made that impossible. And now it will not happen. That is so very sad.

Editor-in-Chief emeritus of the ChessBase News page. Studied Philosophy and Linguistics at the University of Hamburg and Oxford, graduating with a thesis on speech act theory and moral language. He started a university career but switched to science journalism, producing documentaries for German TV. In 1986 he co-founded ChessBase.


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