In 1918 a skilled chess player named Ossip Bernstein found himself in the wrong place at the wrong time. Amid the violence of the Red Terror taking place amid the Russian Civil War, Bernstein was set to be murdered by a Bolshevik firing squad after being arrested in Odessa, Ukraine. But just before that could happen, he was presented with an extraordinary opportunity to save himself.
Following the outbreak of the Russian Civil War a year earlier, the Bolsheviks had instigated a campaign of repression against their enemies. Seeing themselves as allies to the working classes, members of the group sought to rid Soviet Russia of its elites. And so as a consultant to bankers, Bernstein was a clear target.
While he was in Odessa, Bernstein was seized by the Cheka. Formed in 1917, the Cheka was a covert police force which sought to oppose Bolshevik adversaries. Known for its gruesome nature, political repression and mass killings, the force was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people.