Part 2: Alekhine’s Death.
A New Perspective
Artur Portela (1901-1959) was an internationally respected author and journalist. He was not a man easy to intimidate or bully.
He was willing to get his hands dirty when necessary while seeking the truth. Portela gained some fame while reporting from the front lines of the Spanish Civil War, where he was not averse to risking his life trying to cover a worthy story. There are tales of him rapidly putting a Portuguese flag on top of his car and immediately heading into a battle zone, hoping that neither side would shoot!
More than 1 million people lost their lives during the Spanish Civil War. Even today, 70 years since the cessation of hostilities, the wounds have not healed.
Sir Winston Churchill. Portela published an interview with him
General Franco was another of Portela’s interviews
Portela’s reports and interviews were known for their accuracy and rigour. His name became synonomous with good and accurate journalism.
Portela was also known as a bit of a rebel in Portugal during Salazar’s dictatorship. Sort of a Portuguese version of Ernest Hemmingway, from what I can tell. Portela resisted attempts at state censorship of the press, and especially the censorship of his own work.
During the Second World War (at a time when Portugal’s government, despite being officially neutral , held obvious pro-nazi sympathies) he ran the only pro-allies newspaper (Mundo Grafico) in all of Europe (outside of Britain).
Artur Portela was a man of democratic principles and once wrote ”Enquanto houver um homen livre, a liberdade sera defendida.” (Difficult to accurately translate, but essentially ”While there is still one man free, the cause of liberty will be defended.”)
For his lifelong dedication to the highest values of journalism and freedom of the press, Portela was awarded the Order of Liberty (Ordem da Liberdade) by King George VI of England. Today one of Lisbon’s most prestigious city squares is named after Artur Portela.
Clearly Artur Portela was not a man who would stoop to journalistic sensationalism! His piece on Alekhine was undoubtedly motivated by other reasons. Perhaps he felt that the hand of state censorship was too apparent in the official version of Alekhine’s death.
He probably did not reveal any names of sources in his article because he did not want to betray his sources. In Salazar’s dictatorship it could be dangerous to not agree with the government’s version of reality.
A journalist of Portela’s experience and stature would undoubtedly have known how to dig and investigate to get at the heart of the story; he would have had numerous contacts everywhere.
I believe that his article deserves much better treatment than what it has received since it was first published. Certainly it deserved more attention from the historians. I believe that anyone who really seeks to understand the circumstances surrounding Alekhine’s death can not ignore Artur Portela’s April 15th article.
Today, Artur Portela’s name is one of the most respected names in the history of Portuguese journalism. (His son has also become a well known author and journalist). Back in 1946, his article on Alekhine was not appreciated by PIDE, and it is not difficult to understand why it was discredited and very quickly buried.
Putting all of this together, it is difficult not to notice that most of the critical names that come up in the story surrounding Alekhine’s death are individuals who are directly or indirectly involved with PIDE.
But I don’t want the reader to get the wrong impression. I firmly believe that PIDE had nothing to do with Alekhine’s death!
Alekhine was very welcome in Portugal, and he was well treated while he was there. On the 16th of September 1944, the Secretary of State for National Education ( Secretaria de Estado da Educação Nacional) had declared chess an intellectual sport , and Alekhine’s previous visits to Portugal were recognized to have done much to contribute to this newly acquired status. Alekhine was admired and respected by everyone. Portugal was pleased to have World Champion Alexander Alekhine as a guest!
Not a very good photo, but an important one. This is from an earlier visit to Portugal (1940). Alekhine can be seen with his wife, who is holding a cat. Francisco Lupi is the 3rd person from the left. His step-father Luis Lupi is the 5th person from the left (holding his hat).
Why is PIDE so often mentioned in Alekhine’s last days?
There are two reasons, Firstly, Alekhine was a guest in Portugal, and therefore his stay in Portugal was the responsibility of PIDE. They probably watched his every movement. Alekhine was obliged to stay at the Parque Hotel in Estoril , I suppose because that is where they thought it would be easier to keep an eye on him.
Estoril had been the European capital of espionage and secret diplomacy during the Second World War, and essentially PIDE ran Estoril. Even though it was now 1946, Estoril’s game of espionage was still very active; the war may have ended, but there were a lot of important loose ends that had to be taken care of. For instance, the Nazi’s had left 44 tons of gold in Portuguese banks, and everyone wanted a piece of it.
Secondly, when Alekhine had suddenly died, PIDE did not want an international scandal and therefore they whitewashed the story his death. They personally took control of the entire investigation , the hotel room, the photo shoot, the news releases and the autopsy. Censorship was the order of the day.
HOW DID ALEKHINE REALLY DIE?
THE CONSPIRACY THEORY
Few believe that Alekhine died as the official version describes, but 63 years after the fact, nobody can really claim to know how he died on that Saturday evening. I do not know how he died (though I have a good idea of what transpired).
To this day few of the old PIDE archives of that time have not been made public. It is suspected that many files have deliberately disappeared.
Conspiracy theories are easy to develop in situations like this, given the co-incidental timing and the unusual circumstances; given that Alekhine was such a high profile and controvertial figure; given that he had so many detractors who would have been happy to see him dead.
But I think that he was likely murdered outside of his hotel. That almost immediately after the BCF voted to go ahead and organize (on English soil) a World Title match between Alekhine and Botvinnik, someone , somewhere, ordered Alekhine’s immediate assassination. And within hours it was done.
That someone with a lot of power and influence, and the resources, gave the go ahead to get rid of Alekhine before he could slip away to England. But who? France and the Soviet Union are obvious suspects. My preference is for the Soviets.
It is just a conspiracy theory, based on rumours and discrepancies in the known facts. It is rumoured that Dr. Antonio Jacinto Ferreira later told some chess friend(s) that Alekhine’s body had been found outside of the hotel. That he had been shot. That he had been forced to say otherwise.
PIDE must have then quietly brought Alekhine’s body back into his hotel room, cleaned up any visible evidence, dressed Alekhine in his overcoat and then prepared the scene for 11a.m. the following morning, when his dead body was to be discovered. He was sat down and made to look asleep. A piece of meat is stuck in his throat, another piece is put in his right hand.
Did Francisco Lupi hide information about Alekhine’s death?
Alekhine had asked the night before that a hotel employee come to his room at exactly 11 a.m. to remove his dinner plates from the evening before (Alekhine customarily ate in his room) Luis Lupi , on his way to the hotel the following morning, having already planned to arrive at the Parque hotel soon after 11a.m. and take control of the investigation once the body would be officially discovered by hotel employees, decides first to pick up his step-son.
If we are to believe what Francisco Lupi wrote (that he was awoken at 10:30 am and told that something had happend to Alekhine).
But why would Francisco Lupi have lied about something like that? I don’t think that he would have got the time wrong, either. ( I still remember exactly what I was doing when I first heard that J.F.K. was assassinated in 1963!) Francisco Lupi writes that he arrived at the Parque Hotel and entered room 43 ”with the Portuguese authorities”.
His step-father, Luis Lupi , starts to take the pictures. And also making some last minute changes. The rest is, as we know, history…
The Parque Hotel in Estoril. Alekhine stayed in room 43. Immediately after his death, all of the furniture and accessories were removed and the door number changed to a different number.
For a conspiracy theory, not too shabby! There are numerous great conspiracy theories that are based on discrepancies of a whole lot less time than 30 minutes!
And like any good conspiracy theory, hard to disprove; impossible to prove.
THE PRINCIPAL SUSPECTS
(of a crime yet to be proven)
Alekhine’s future depended on being able to get a match with Botvinnik as soon as possible after the war. By the time Alekhine arrived in Portugal in January 1946, he must have felt as though the walls were closing in on him and that time was running out. The French wanted him for collaborating with the Germans.
Alekhine was worried that Spain’s Franco was going to hand him over to the French, so he quickly went (fled) to Portugal in January of 1946.
The Soviets considered him a war criminal. Alekhine could get no tournament invitations in the rest of Europe because of the horribly anti-semitic articles that he had written while in German occupied Europe. Rumours that FIDE was going to take his world title away from him started to appear.
With the passing of both Lasker and Capablanca during the war, it would have not been a big leap to accept Alekhine’s passing. When he did infact die, there were very few tears shed.
I think that many wanted to see Alekhine disappear from the scene, but probably none more than the Soviets and the French.
From the Kremlin’s perspective:
Most Soviets considered Alekhine a traitor and a renegade for making highly publicized anti-soviet statements in the press, but there must have also been some pride somewhere, since he was the first World Champion to have been born in Russia.
By the time the Second World War had just begun, Botvinnik had managed to get Communist Party support for a challenge match with the world champion, and so it was very natural that once the long conflict was over Botvinnik was very eager to pick up where he had left off. He did not lose any time in getting the ball rolling…
(Moscow Headquarters for the NKVD-secret police)
The situation in Soviet chess leadership , however, had grown more complicated during the war: control of world’s largest chess federation had grown into a competition between the Communist Party and the secret police, with the latter very much against the whole idea of any type of compromise with Alekhine.
Boris Veinstein (1907-1993), by that time the head of Soviet chess , and a very high ranking officer in the NKVD (soviet secret police) ,had told Botvinnik flat-out that the match was ‘‘impossible” because Alekhine was a ”war criminal”. Botvinnik , for his part, had replied that Alekhine’s war record was ‘‘immaterial”.
So Botvinnik continued to pursue his ambitions by nurturing his already special relationship with the Communist Party. He argued that the danger was that if Alekhine was not defeated in a match in the near future, FIDE would likely remove Alekhine’s title because of his war record, and the title would be given to Euwe. Then Euwe would accept a challenge from Reshevsky, lose without a fight, and America would have the world title. It was a convincing argument!
Very soon both Veinstein and Botvinnik openly hated each other. The stakes were raised when Veinstein threatened to quit the leadership should the federation ever decide to support a match between Alekhine and Botvinnik.
In Soltis’ authoritative ”Soviet Chess 1917-1991” a remarkable story is described of a top level meeting of the chess federation that included the participation of Botvinnik, Veinstein,Kotov, Smyslov, Bronstein, Ragozin and some others. A vote was taken (with Veinstein abstaining, since he was the chairman) to see if they would support a match with Alekhine. The decision was a narrow 5-4 victory against the match.
Just at that moment, someone notified the meeting that a Party bureau meeting had already decided that the match would take place! Kotov is quoted as saying ”I didn’t know about this…It’s necessary to re-vote.” So another vote took place, and this time it was decided to also support the match!
On the 4th of February 1946 a formal challenge to Alekhine was issued. Negotiations with Alekhine began, but the principal obstacle was finding a country that was willing to host and organize the controvertial match.
The Soviet Union was out of the question since the secret police had promised that Alekhine would be arrested and turned over to the French immediately should he ever step onto Soviet soil.
France was out of the question. England was a possibility, but there was fierce opposition to this because of Alekhine’s war record. Immediately after the war was over, England decided to organize a ‘victory’ tournament to celebrate and Alekhine was invited.
However, opposition from the American players as well as Euwe grew, and soon the organizers were forced to withdraw their invitation to the world champion. It was a bitter blow to Alekhine!
Be that as it may, it must have come as a big surprise to many that on the evening of Saturday 23rd of March 1946 the British Chess Federation , despite a heated debate, decided to go ahead and organize a match between Alekhine and Botvinnik, with the Soviets providing the prize money.
If Alekhine had indeed been killed by the Soviet secret police operating in Portugal, (as many think is very possible, myself included) could Veinstein’s visceral hatred towards Botvinnik have been the motivation? We will never know. Veinstein died in 1993 and had never admitted such a deed.
FROM THE FRENCH PERSPECTIVE
France was occupied by the Nazi’s between 1940 and 1944. Most cooperated with the Nazi’s, though quite a few resisted. Many of those who cooperated profitted from the Nazi occupation and were considered collaborators. When the Nazi’s fled, a huge backlash against Nazi collaborators was initiated.
At first there was chaos in the whole process, with summary executions and humiliating public punishments. Gradually a legal matrix was applied, with public tials and defendants having the right to defend themselves.
Official figures of that time are difficult to find and vary from source to source. Most say that up to 10,000 collaborators were summarily executed in the first months after France was liberated. That is the figure that the government thinks is correct. But some believe that as many as 100,000 were executed.
Afterwards, when a legal matrix was installed, up to 120,000 people charged with collaborating were condemned. Most later received amnesty. But 1,500 of them received the death penalty.
A number of people believe that a secret death squad was set up after the war, by what used to be the French Resistance, to punish the worse collaborators vigilante -style. Some must have believed that the legal matrix imposed by the new French government for dealing with collaborators was insufficient.
This death squad was thought to hunt down collaborators who had fled France to escape justice. Spassky has mentioned to me that as many as 200,000 people could have been victims of these death squads. The French government denies that they ever existed.
Could Alekhine have been a victim of such a death squad? He was one of the most high profile collaborators.
Francisco Lupi was a strong chess master, and the best player in the Portugal in the 40’s and early 50’s. He was also a very well liked person, refined and cultured. Alekhine was impressed with his talent, having been defeated twice by the Portuguese Champion.
They worked together on a book and preparing for the match with Botvinnik. Lupi’s health was always delicate, and he developed heart problems. He spent his last years in a sanitarium Madrid , suffering from heart disease and died in 1954, still a relatively young man.
Salazar made the cover of Time in July 1946. He was called the ‘dean of dictators’. Salazar responded by expelling the Time journalist who wrote the story the same month, and prohibited the sale of the magazine in Portugal for the following 6 years!
Like father, like son.
Artur Portela’s son , Artur Jr. (born 1937), is today a respected author and journalist in Portugal, just like his father was in his time!
When he published his first book of fiction (Feira das Valdades) in 1959 at age 22, he was immediately arrested by PIDE, and held for 3 days without being charged. He was not interrogated, or beaten. But PIDE would not let him sleep for those 3 days! Finally, without even issuing any warning, PIDE let him go.
On the 25th of April, 1974 a relatively bloodless revolution took place in Portugal, ending 41 years of dictatorship. The people had simply grown fed up. A democracy was immediately established.
One of the first acts was to eliminate all remnants of what was left of PIDE (DGS). Portugal’s intelligence service and secret police was dismantled overnight. In the 35 years since, not one former member of PIDE has ever been held responsible for any of the abuses that took place.
SPRAGGETT ON CHESS (2010)