28 September 2018

The German Spy and the Russian-Jewish Chessmaster

Café Trumpf in Berlin circa 1936
Café Trumpf in Berlin circa 1936
It always amazes me, the tangential relationships I discover that touch on the Josef Jakobs story.

On 13 June 1941, during an interrogation with Camp 020 officer, Lt. George F. Sampson, Josef mentioned that:
Dr. Paul List, a Russian Jew who immigrated to Germany, can confirm that I am anti-Nazi. List is a professional chess player and owned a club in the Café Berlin in the Kurfürstendamm in 1931 and then later a club in the Café Trumpf. (The National Archives, KV 2/25, no. 94b)
A few months ago, I did a bit more digging on the mystery Dr. Paul List, just to see if the guy existed and if there was any truth to Josef's story. Here's what I found...

Dr. Paul List
Paul List - from CHESS, 24 December 1954.
Paul List - from CHESS, 24 December 1954.
Paul (Pavel) M. (Odes) List was born 6 December 1887 to Jewish parents in Memel (Klaipeda) Lithuania. Paul lived in Lithuania and apparently studied at the Wilna University until 1908, when he moved to Odessa, Ukraine to study at Odessa University.

Paul was already a respected chess player and contributed to the revival of chess in Ukraine. In 1908, he took first place in the Odessa championship, qualifying for the All-Russian Amateurs tournament.

His real family name was Odes but because letters address to Odes in Odessa was confusing, he changed his family name to List.

From 1911 to 1918, List played in several Russian tournaments. By 1920, the Soviet Red Army had invaded Ukraine and taken possession of Odessa. In the face of political unrest, many Ukrainians fled abroad. Given List's birth in Memel, where German was one of the two main languages, List decided to flee to Germany.

Café Wien, Kurfüstendamm, Berlin
(Phot. E. Leitner, Berlin-Charlottenburg [Public domain]
via Wikimedia Commons)
By 1926, List had settled in Berlin and with the help of friends, built up a chess centre which soon became famous. He gave lectures, played in chess tournaments and published a weekly chess column.

In 1929, List was working as a  chess room manager in Café Wien at 26 Kurfürstendamm, owned owned by Hungarian-born Jewish businessman Karl Kutschera. Albert Einstein apparently spent time in the chess room at the Café Wien.

By 1932, List had moved a few buildings over and was the director of the chess room in Café Trumpf at 10 Kurfürstendamm. At the opening of the chess room on 14 November 1932, List and another player (Saemisch) played 38 simultaneous games.

The rise of Nazism soon put a damper on List's activities in Germany. In early August 1936, List visited Kaunas (Lithuania) and helped prepare the Lithuanian chess team for the unofficial Olympiad in Munich. From Kaunas, List traveled to England and played in the 1936 Nottingham Chess Congress).

Erstes Romanisches Haus - housed a cinema
and Café Trumpf from 1923-1943 (postcard circa 1940)
In October 1937, List restored his Lithuanian citizenship and received a Lithuanian passport. By the end of the year, he had settled in London, England, although he kept his Lithuanian citizenship.In 1939, List was living in Belsize Square in Hampstead with his wife Stephanie. His family name was noted as: List-Odess.

List became an art dealer in England, but chess remained one of his foremost activities. List played in many chess tournaments over the coming years but didn't place first often, although he was a great defensive player.

On 22-25 May 1953, the 65 year-old List, who was also ill, finished first in the British Lightning Chess Championship (10 seconds per move). He was, however, not awarded the champion title, since he was not a naturalized Briton.

List died on 9 September 1954, at the age of 66 in London.

The German Spy and the Jewish Chessmaster
It would appear that Josef was telling the truth when he told Lt. Sampson about Dr. Paul List and the Café Trumpf. There is some discrepancy as Josef mentions that List ran a chess room at the Café Berlin while chess history sources mention a Café Wien. This could simply be a faulty memory on Josef's part. Or perhaps, there was a Café Berlin at which List also spent time.

There is no evidence in the MI5 files that the interrogation officers visited Paul List and questioned him about Josef Jakobs. They did question Frau Lily Knips, a German-Jewish refugee in London, whom Josef had known in Berlin. They also questioned Frau Clara Gronau, another German-Jewish refugee from Berlin whom Knips suggested might know Josef. It's not clear why they never questioned the Russian-Jewish chessmaster about Josef Jakobs.

Paul List Biography - wonderfully detailed with many references
Photograph of Paul List in 1946
Bio Bits and Photographs of Paul List
British 1939 National Registration
Memorial Plaque site for Cafe Wien - has a pdf that gives a bit of Karl Kutschera's history (German)
Final Sale: The End of Jewish-owned Business in Nazi Berlin - has a couple of pages on Kutschera

24 September 2018

Robin W.G. Stephens and the Wana Column (1920-1921)

I have written a series of blog posts about Robin W. G. Stephens as he played a pivotal role in the Josef Jakobs story as commandant of Camp 020 interrogation centre. A couple of months ago I had a fascinating email exchange with Nick Hinton, a former commander of the 2nd Gurkha Regiment, and now involved with The Royal Gurkha Rifles Regimental Association (RGRRA). Hinton has been researching the story of Robin W.G. Stephens who, before becoming involved with Camp 020 during World War 2, served with the Gurkhas the late 1910s and early 1920s.

From Stephens' biography on the Frontier Medals site, we know that, on 15 April 1919, he was commissioned into the the 2nd Battalion of the 2nd Gurkha Rifles as a Second Lieutenant. That same bio notes that on 12 June 1920 (after being promoted to Lieutenant), Stephens was detached from his regiment and served as General Staff Officer 3 with the Wana Column until 15 October 1921, and again from 3 November 1921 to 27 December 1921. The Wana Column was a reinforced brigade that was sent to reoccupy the town of Wana (Waziristan - now part of Pakistan) in 1921. Stephens was even Mentioned-in-Dispatches "for distinguished service during the operations in Waziristan (April 1921 to December 1921) (London Gazette - 12 June 1923).

In compiling information on Stephens for a regimental magazine article, Hinton researched the Wana Column and discovered that the Peter Harrington Gallery in London had a photograph album of the column for sale (£2250). According to the gallery's website:
Wana Column - album of photographs  (from Peter Harrington Gallery website)
Wana Column - album of photographs
(from Peter Harrington Gallery website)
Superb photograph album documenting the British reoccupation of Wana and the end of the 1919-20 Waziristan campaign in over 80 intimate original snapshots, supplemented by a run of atmospheric professional photographs from Holmes's souvenir series, "With the Wana Column", and several group officer portraits, all meticulously captioned and forming an exceptionally rich portrayal of British operations in the region which from the First World War to Independence "dominated events on the North West Frontier, politically and military" (National Army Museum, online).
The photographs were taken by Randolph Bezzant Holmes (1888-1973), a British photographer who appears to have served as  a semi-official photographer for the British Army in India. The gallery website notes that:
His impressive photographs depict the progression of the Wana Column from Jandola, through the Shahur Tangi gorge to Haidiar Kach and Sarwekai camps, thence to Dargai Oba, Rogha Kot, and finally Wana, with photographs of the fort, environs, Wazir hostages, and three group officer portraits; the captions include informative details regarding the landscape, conditions, British engagements with the Wazirs, and indicate the neighbouring stations in each direction en route.
 Hinton visited the Peter Harrington Gallery in Chelsea and was able to take pictures of some of the well-captioned photographs in the album and discovered that a few included a young Robin Stephens. The lighting in the shop was not great, but Hinton was still able to get some pretty good images. Stephens would have been 21 years old in these photographs.
Photograph of officers from the Wana Column circa - Robin W.G. Stephens is at far left. (photograph courtesy of Nick Hinton)
Photograph of officers from the Wana Column circa - Robin W.G. Stephens is at far left.
(photograph courtesy of Nick Hinton)

Photograph of officers from the Wana Column circa 1921 - Robin W.G. Stephens is standing at right. (photograph courtesy of Nick Hinton)
Photograph of officers from the Wana Column circa 1921 - Robin W.G. Stephens is standing at right.
(photograph courtesy of Nick Hinton)
These are amazing photographs and I am grateful to Hinton for tracking them down and graciously sharing copies of them. On the other hand, both Hinton and I are still stymied by Stephen's ultimate demise. It is still a mystery.

20 September 2018

New Fiction Book - Traitor, Lodger, German Spy by Tony Rowland (2018)

The Book
Traitor, Lodger, German Spy, Tony Rowland. APS Publications, 2018. 

You can't spend years researching one of the WW2 spies (Josef Jakobs) without getting sucked into the stories of the other spies! One of the most fascinating stories is that of Jan Willem ter Braak, the alias of Dutchman Engelbertus Fukken

He landed via parachute in early November 1940, near Bletchley Park. He made his way to Cambridge where he managed to fly under the radar of the authorities for several months. In late March, 1941, likely after running out of funds, Ter Braak shot himself in a Cambridge air raid shelter.

At least that's the official story. There are many unanswered questions about Ter Braak: did he manage to contact the German Abwehr using his wireless transmitter, what was his mission, were other spies dispatched to England to supply him with funds, was it really suicide, how could he have escaped MI5s watchful eyes?

While non-fiction writers are left to piece together very flimsy fragments of fact... fiction writers can develop the story in strange, wonderful and intriguing directions. Such is the case with a new fiction book by Tony Rowland entitled Traitor, Lodger, German Spy. Tony takes the factual framework of the Ter Braak case and then runs with it. I've had the privilege of reading an early draft version of the manuscript and the story has only gotten better since then!

You can check it out on Amazon.co.uk here... ebook is only £1.99!

15 September 2018

Adventures in Publishing - Manuscript Submitted to The History Press

Tower of London (copyright G.K. Jakobs)
Tower of London (copyright G.K. Jakobs)
Today was D-Day... submission day of the manuscript. The last few weeks have been serious nose-to-the-grindstone... tidying up all the loose ends and doing multiple re-reads and corrections. After all that activity, it was kind of anti-climactic to hit the "Send" button with two documents (manuscript and photo captions) and twenty photographs. There were no sparklers or choirs singing at 5:55 am but it felt good.

I have a strong suspicion that this is simply the eye of the hurricane and that there will still be much work before a hold an actual book in my hands. But for the moment, I will relish this moment of accomplishment and a sense of completion.

I did have a heck of a time paring down the photographs to a mere twenty. I had so many options and had to prune ruthlessly, which was hard.

The same could be said of the manuscript. I had incorporated many lovely mini-bios of the interesting characters I have encountered in researching Josef's story (and published on this blog). Most of those ended up on the cutting room floor with the exception of a few key ones. That too was not an easy decision. On the other hand, I have a lot of anecdotal stories to share during interviews.

Another ongoing challenge has been my seemingly insatiable need to do more research. Just a bit more research... At some point though, I needed to draw a line... otherwise this book would never see the light of day!

One thing I've learned is that it is always (ALWAYS) better to have too much detail rather than not enough. Case-in-point... footnotes/end notes. Ninety percent of my sources were from The National Archives. A source might look like: KV 2/25, no. 65a, 15/04/1941, report by Stephens. File, folio, date, description. That's how I've run with it in the manuscript. For a while though, I was not the most consistent kitten in the litter... and that has been a major headache. I could have just gone minimalist and left it as: KV 2/25. But... I realized quickly that documenting the sources as precisely as I could really, seriously helped me as I did my fact-checking run through the manuscript. Which meant I needed to fill in the gaps on some of the sources. So... better to over-document a source than not. Word to the wise for next time.

Finally, working on the Acknowledgements really brought home how many people have helped me over the years. It's a long list. From the pharmacist who helped me decipher Josef's prescription at the Tower of London to the brave souls who read various iterations of the manuscript to Nigel West and Winston Ramsey who opened the door. Gratefulness to all involved.

I intent to resume my regular blog posts. I have a backlogged series of post ideas that have been yammering to get written.