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Ernst Helms - the man whom Lasker saved

Ernst Helms (Эрнст Брунович Гельмс in Russian) was a German-Soviet artist, decorator and cartoonist. In a little-known chapter of his early life, he was literally saved by Emanuel Lasker's advice. Here's the episode, recounted by Yakov Damsky.

"Ernst Helms then worked in Tupolev's design office; the famous ANT planes were setting many records, the workers were awarded with various Soviet decorations and, what's even more important, access to the closed food distribution centers that the ordinary folks were barred from. Lasker had no own sources of information about the Soviet life (and couldn't have), but his world-class analytical mind allowed him to see so much between the pompous newspaper lines that he once gave Helms an advice; for this advice, Ernie always considered Lasker his second father.

That's what Lasker told him: leave Tupolev's company and quit aviation altogether, get far from Moscow and get a profession where his German name didn't stick out in any way. And that was in the end of 1935, when everything in USSR still seemed totally quiet! Lasker himself had been in Moscow for half a year at the time.

The funny thing was that Ernst took the advice. He went to the provincial (despite the good university) Kazan, took a job in the Russian Dramatic Theater as a stage worker, started to make scenery elements himself, became an artist, then the theater's head artist, the People's Artist of the Tatar Autonomous SSR, Distinguished Artist of the RSFSR, one of the best cartoonists there were. He would pray every day for his elder friend, and then, for decades - in his memory (Helms died in 1992). Because, as Lasker seemed to predict, in 1937, a year and half later, the entire Tupolev's design office was jailed. Tupolev's genius (he could look at the plane's model and immediately tell if this plane would fly at all) was used in the sharashka (design office staffed by prisoners) which, ironically, was too based in Kazan, but many of his subordinates wouldn't survive the gulag. Helms wouldn't have survived it for sure, but he was never sought after during the arrest."

Ernst Helms' official site (in Russian): www.gelms.ru

Commenti


  • 7 mesi fa

    Spektrowski

    @ghostofmaroczy

    Moscow's a big megapolis, real big. Dwarfs all other Russian cities. It has all pros and contras of any multi-million city in the world though, I think.

  • 7 mesi fa

    ghostofmaroczy

    Spektrowski, your profile says you live in Moscow.  What's it like living in the place where such destructive political power is wielded?

  • 7 mesi fa

    Spektrowski

    @ghostofmaroczy

    Tal also never moved from the home city, Riga. And speaking of Kazan, it was home of a very good master, Rashid Nezhmetdinov.

    But the thing is, while you could hone your skills almost anywhere in the USSR, if you really wanted to succeed, you've had to move to Moscow, (sometimes) Leningrad or, at the very least, be living in a Soviet republic capital like Kiev, Tallinn or Riga and having some support from the republican authorities. Political clout was almost as important as chess skills back then.

  • 7 mesi fa

    ghostofmaroczy

    I don't doubt that Moscow is the place to be.  But every time I hear someone from the Soviet Union asked about the Soviet School of Chess, they say each teacher from a given city around the country had their own way of doing things with their own students like satellites orbiting satellites.  Gelfand's teacher in Belarus had his way and the King's Indian was created in the Ukraine and Keres always considered himself Estonian first, just to toss forward a few examples.  Moscow may be central but it is not everything.

  • 7 mesi fa

    kamalakanta

    Bronstein also moved to Moscow from Ukraine.... it seems that, at one point, if you lived in the USSR and had great potential, Moscow was the place to be.

  • 7 mesi fa

    Spektrowski

    @ghostofmaroczy

    I did not say that, I quoted Yakov Damsky.

    Since the inception of USSR and moving the capital back to Moscow from St Petersburg, Moscow had become the center of all Soviet (and Russian) life, so it does look down on other cities a bit. And the transport infrastructure is historically worse than, say, in the United States, so the distance between large cities does play a role, and did especially before the advent of the Internet. In the 1930's, it was much easier to find somebody in Moscow than in a city far away from Moscow.

    Chess-wise, Moscow was also the center of life. The Central Chess Club, the Sports Committee and other governing bodies were located there. I specifically remember that when Tigran Petrosian achieved his first successes, someone gave him an advice: "Move to Moscow, or you won't really get anywhere'. He did and became a World Champion. Botvinnik and Spassky also moved to Moscow from Leningrad.

  • 7 mesi fa

    ghostofmaroczy

    Spektrowski, you say Kazan is provincial.  Similarly, St Petersburg is often derided.  I have heard of chess players being embarrassed that they are from St Petersburg.  And Kiev holds little sway politically, c.f. the recent events in Crimea.  Why does Moscow have these views of these other cities?

  • 7 mesi fa

    Spektrowski

    @ghostofmaroczy

    It was in Moscow.

  • 7 mesi fa

    ghostofmaroczy

    I always enjoy your pieces, Spektrowski.  You state Helms moved to Kazan.  But where was Tupolev's aviation office located that he fled from?

  • 10 mesi fa

    kamalakanta

    Thanks, Alex, for providing more accurate information. Many young people have no idea of these and other facts from that era.

  • 10 mesi fa

    Spektrowski

    Bronstein's case was quite unfortunate because he was namesake of Lev Trotsky (whose real last name was also Bronstein). His father was arrested on those grounds (even his jailmates didn't believe that he was not a relative of that Bronstein), but survived the gulag and died of old age.

    David Bronstein joined the NKVD-supported Dynamo sports society to make his (and his father's) life a bit safer.

  • 10 mesi fa

    kamalakanta

    The Stalin regime took hold in 1929, I believe.....so already at that point (1937), strings were being moved behind the scenes. Bronstein's way was blocked a few times, but as they say, the cream always rises to the top....Bronstein's talent was too great....A few chess Masters were shot during the Stalin regime.... for "conspiring against the State" or some other mythical cause....

  • 10 mesi fa

    Spektrowski

    I wonder why Emmanuel Lasker, who officially held a Soviet citizenship at that point, wasn't invited to that 1937 USSR Championship won by Levenfish. Another naturalized player, Andor Lilienthal, did play and finished 14th.

  • 10 mesi fa

    kamalakanta

    The Stalin regime chose Botvinnik as its main guy early on, and players like Bronstein faced this as they were going up in the ranks.

    As Kasparov points out in "My Great Predecessors, Vol. II", in 1937 Botvinnik and Levenfish (defending Soviet Champion) played a match for the Soviet Championship title. In the event of a drawn match, Levenfish would retain the title.

    The match was indeed drawn, and Levenfish expected to be sent to the AVRO Tournament in 1938, but Botvinnik was the one sent. Already, secret negotiations with Alekhine were taking place....

  • 10 mesi fa

    kamalakanta

    Wow....that is absolutely crazy! 

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