As a child in Berlin, George Trofimoff was sickly, so much so that at age ten he almost died with double-sided pneumonia and was sent to a sanatorium to heal. Fortunately, his father taught him chess, and from early youth, he played a lot of chess, including his period of recuperation at the sanatorium.
In spite of his respiratory struggles, he learned a physical sport, tennis, that would become his obsession throughout his life. Close to his home in the Russian emigre enclave of Berlin was a tennis club. He would stand in front of it and watch people play. He noticed there were small boys who were gathering the tennis balls for the players. One day, he gathered his courage, stepped inside the club office and asked the manager if he also could gather tennis balls like the other kids.
The manager said he could but first he had to learn how the plays were scored. Then, he had to wear white shorts, a white shirt, white tennis shoes, white socks, everything white. George was hooked. He practically lived on the courts, would even play hookey from school to be there. In time, the club trainer took him under his tutelage, and George developed into an outstanding tournament player.
Many years later, George would be accused of spying and tried by the government in a Florida federal court. The prosecutor trying the case would attack George’s lifestyle in the years he was an army officer in Germany. The characterization was that George’s membership and participation in elite tennis clubs was expensive, more expensive than an army officer should be able to afford. It must be evidence that he was getting money from somewhere else, like the KGB.
I write of George’s life and the trial at the end of his life in my book: “Observer: The Colonel George Trofimoff Story, the tale of America’s highest ranking military officer convicted of spying”.