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Hans-Werner von Massow

by Erik Larsson

Hans-Werner von Massow (1912-1988) pictured almost 50 years after participating in Propaganda-turnier 1928-30


I cannot remember the exact date when Hans-Werner von Massow and I had our first contact or when either of us wrote the first letter. The year must have been 1935 or 1936, as this corresponds to what Hans-Werner first stated himself.

I know we met face-to-face for the first time in early August 1937 in connection with the historical IFSB Congress in the Grand Hotel Royal, Stockholm.

No chess meeting has ever been so well represented by famous chess organisers and leading players which, among others, included FIDE President, A.Rueb, and the World Chess Champion, Max Euwe. This was accomplished thanks to the efforts of the IFSB’s Vice-President and General Secretary, the then 25-year-old Hans-Werner von Massow.

However, at this time, Hans-Werner had been an active organiser, chess player and journalist since he was 15 years old.

In February 1928, the ICSB (International Correspondence Schach Bund) was founded by Erich Freienhagen from Berlin, and, at the meeting on August 15th 1928, Hans-Werner became the first editor of its organ “Fernschach-Courier”.


In the following poem, he paid tribute to correspondence chess [next to translation in English]:


Nur wer alle Kraft zusammenrafft
Aus kleinem etwas Grosses schafft!
Nur unermüdliches, rastloses Streben
Kann unserer Arbeit den Segen geben!
Es lebe der “ICSB”!
Es lebe die neue Bundesführung!
Es lebe – unser Gründer
Herr Erich Freienhagen
Only those who use their strength together
Create the Great from small beginnings
Only our tireless and restless endeavour
Can give our work its blessing!
Cheers to the ICSB
Cheers to the new Federation Board
Cheers – to our founder,
Mr. Erich Freienhagen!
H-W von Massow., Dresden,
15 August 1928


When Hans-Werner and I strolled around in Stockholm old town and the Klara quarters and ended up for dinner in the Restaurang Löwenbräu, I told him about a Swedish proverb, “Många bäckar små göra en stor å”, and he was particularly delighted. I then understood that Hans-Werner, some 9 years earlier in the Fernschach-Courier, had expressed the same sentiment, i.e. “Many a little makes a mickle.” You learn as long as you live. Mickle or muckle is an Anglo-Saxon/Scots word, meaning “great.”

It’s a small world, but out of ICSB 1928, we have today in year 2002, an ICCF with more than 30,000 players in the ratings database.

Hans-Werner liked good food and drinking. He told me once, in strictness confidence, that he had no faith in people who were keen advocates of the Temperance Society. We both believed in “vino veritas.” My first meal with Hans-Werner was boiled pickled pork together with beer and Swedish schnapps. An opening ceremony Hans-Werner and I never forgot!

When we left the restaurant Löwenbräu, I remember that, outside the Opera House, we were met by about ten persons who started a hot-tempered discussion with Hans-Werner. In Sweden, ordinary people had a bad insight about Hitler’s real policy. Hitler had just started the Rhineland occupation and they considered that it was the start of similar larger undertakings.

Today, I understand that the chess friends accused Hitler for his treatment of non-aryans and dissidents.

I understood later on, that Hans-Werner tried to calm down the crowd. Himself he had kept the Jew Edwin Weiss as the IFSB Treasurer as long as he dared and as often as he could, he gave Edwin all the praise he deserved. Hans-Werner was politically a Social Democrat and a friend of Israel. The only time he threatened to resign the ICCF Presidency was when the Soviet allies at Congress wanted to decide on an exclusion of Israel from ICCF.

Another episode I remember was at a banquet in Linz. I did not sit at the top table. The mayor of the town was unable to attend and had sent a substitute. The man showed a great ignorance of ICCF and made political statements to Hans-Werner. Suddenly Hans-Werner, his wife Bertl, and the General Secretary Lukas left the table and went out, but asked us Swedes to stay and enjoy the banquet.

Hans-Werner was usually friendly and he once taught me that if I had to take my stand with a proposal, then I should always start to praise its positive aspects, before giving ones criticisms of its disadvantages.

Hans-Werner avoided filling Fernschach with polemics (controversy) and he felt differences of opinion should always be solved in a narrow circle. There was only one incident I remember between us which was serious. Hans-Werner let me discuss and negotiate with some prominent officials who did not command the German language. When once, in an undiplomatic way, I mentioned the disadvantages of having a mono-lingual President, this person wrote to Hans-Werner even more undiplomatically. I was given a serious lecture by Hans-Werner!

One episode, which intimately has always affected me, happened in Austria. Hans-Werner and I went out for a walk in the twilight. Before us on the road we found a little lost young frog. We both had the same thought that we must rescue it from the traffic, so we placed it over a fence in safety into a garden.

Afterwards, I was stupid enough to mention it in an article about the Congress and an Austrian, who was discontent with a tournament decision (which Hans-Werner and I had agreed to), used the frog event in a most unfriendly way.

Once Hans-Werner’s wife Bertl answered me on my question, “why did you not have any children?” She answered that they had all the troublesome chess players as their children! She once said that Hans-Werner became nervous with children about, but I doubt it – with Svea’s and mine there were always friendly relations between them and Hans-Werner.

Of course, the relations between Bertl and Hans-Werner as a married couple was a most effective one. Bertl was a Sudeten German and her handling of the German language was extremely easy to understand by non-Germans. She liked the clerical chess work and could, as a trained nurse, look after Hans-Werner’s state of health.

When they lived at Ottersbekallee in Hamburg, they regularly walked as far as the Hagenbeck Zoo and back again. Hans-Werner was powerfully built, but his mobility was good with a lively temperament. I liked to play table-tennis with him as he had difficulties with my spin service and returns. One of his most beloved physical exercises was swimming. I remember he would never leave the swimming pool before me and consoled myself that the Archimedes principle favoured Hans-Werner!

Hans-Werner was a very good chess player and IFSB President Abonyi granted him the title of an Internationaler Fernschachmeister (IM today) I cannot remember whether Hans-Werner ever availed himself of this title. Like myself, we had the opinion that playing and arbiter titles should be kept apart. Hans-Werner’s knowledge of CC and its rules, on the other hand, was excellent.

Once I found an article in Fernschach about some serious CC rules problems and I asked Hans-Werner who had written it – “It must be a big expert in Rules”? Ashamed, I got the reply that the writer was Hans-Werner himself.

He played a lot of CC, both in ICSB and IFSB and had a faculty to produce imaginative and original positions.

Well known, are the queens:


Less well known, the strongest knight?


I would really like it, if some CC historian could collect games played by H-W and publish them in a booklet or a CC magazine. I am ready to give all the games I know, but most interesting, would be to know whether somebody took care of more of his games from the flat at Ottersbekalee 21, where he died on 14th August 1988, at 14.30 hrs.

With this exact point of time for Hans-Werner’s death, I cannot finalise this obituary by withholding from readers the following historical game between two of the biggest pioneers of organised international CC.

It was played in Section 1 of the ICSB 1928, between its founder, Erich Freienhagen, Berlin (White), and the editor of Fernschach-Courier, Hans-Werner von Massow, Dresden (Black).


Hans Werner’s idol was the philosopher Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831) and I have tried to show how “Hegelianism” was found in Hans-Werner’s personality – “To be and to think” is the same thing !

Chessplayers never die. We can always be brought up like I was with Hans-Werner in the above game and with his commentaries. That you feel them then, as a young teenager (15), is not any worse in my opinion. If my energy and time suffice, I will play through more of Hans-Werner’s games and provide commentaries, similar to those I have written here, to bring out his philosophies on life, through chess.

If you want to know more about Hans-Werner in his older days, I would recommend you study Friedrich Hegel’s philosophy (“Sein und Denken sind ein und dasselbe”) Hans-Werner was indeed a “hegelianist”!


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