Who was Fischer’s Father?
Paul Felix Nemenyi (ne-MEN-yi) was born on June 5, 1895 in Fiume/Rijeka, Croatia (Austria-Hungary). He was a Jewish Hungarian mathematician and physicist specializing in fluid dynamics and continuum mechanics. From 1912 to 1918 he studied at the Polytechnical school in Budapest. He had to leave Hungary where anti-Semitic laws had been enacted. In 1922, he obtained his doctorate in mathematics in Berlin and lectured on engineering at the Technical University of Berlin. In 1927, his son Peter (1927-2002), was born in Berlin. In the early 1930s, he published a textbook on mechanics that would be required reading in German universities. In 1933, he was sacked from his university duties because he was a Jew when the Nazis came to power. He was arrested on April 1, 1933 by SS troops for making “calumnious statements” against Hitler’s government. He was jailed for one day, then released because of the lack of evidence. Nemenyi belonged to a small Socialist party called the ITSK.
In 1934, he found work in Copenhagen, settling in a farm village on redistributed noble landholdings in Denmark. His wife fled to Paris and died some time later. He then went to Britain. He resettled in a collective of unemployed coal miners in an abandoned factory and manor in Wales. In the fall of 1938, he arrived in the USA to find a job. He left his son, Peter, behind in various Quakers’ homes and young refugee hostels in the United Kingdom. He visited Princeton to consult with Albert Einstein and gave his resume to the Emergency Committee in Aid of Displaced Foreign Scholars. The committee wrote in its files that Dr. Paul Nemenyi was an unstable and undesirable person. Dr. Theodore von Karman, a fellow Hungarian and leading aeronautical scientist, also proclaimed Nemenyi a misfit.
After being recommended by Albert Einstein, he took part in hydraulic research at the State University of Iowa, working for Albert Einstein’s son, Hans-Albert. In late 1941, he was appointed instructor at the University of Colorado and taught college freshman mathematics for $165 a month. He was an animal-rights support and refused to wear wool. In the winter, he wore pajamas underneath his clothes to stay warm and refused to wear a suit and tie.
Dr von Karman wrote about Nemenyi, “When he came to this country, he went to scientific meetings in an open shirt without a tie and was very much disappointed as I advised him to dress as anyone else. He told me that he thought this was a country of freedom, and the man is only judged according to his internal values and not his external appearance.”
In 1942, Dr. Paul Nemenyi, age 47, met Regina Wender Fischer (1913-1997), age 29, in Denver, according to FBI files. Regina was born in Zurich, Switzerland and the family moved to the United States in 1914. Regina was taking classes at the University of Denver while working at a company that made chicken incubators. She was a mother of a 5-year-old girl, Joan Fischer. Her husband, Hans-Gerhardt Fischer, was in Santiago, Chile. He was barred by immigration authorities from entering the United States. Paul met Regina at the University of Denver.
In 1942, Nemenyi told colleagues that he preferred communism to capitalism. Regina may have had the same preference. The FBI suspected Regina of communist sympathies after a babysitter found what she believed to be pro-communist letters from Chile belonging to her, then turned them over to the FBI after calling them. In the summer of 1942, Dr. Paul Nemenyi and Regina Fischer were romantically linked, probably had an affair, and he may have fathered Bobby Fischer. He did provide some financial support for Regina and the baby.
In 1942, the Encyclopedia Britannica commissioned Dr. Nemenyi to write an article on theoretical mechanics. The article was later rejected.
By 1943, Regina moved to Chicago and Paul Nemenyi moved to Rhode Island to teach.
Bobby Fischer was born on March 9, 1943, but Paul Nemenyi’s name was not on the birth certificate. Regina gave birth to her son alone, in a clinic for poor single mothers (Michael Reese Hospital). On the birth certificate, she listed Hans-Gerhard Fischer as the father. She briefly considered putting Bobby Fischer up for adoption, but decided not to after talking to a social worker. Regina then moved into a Chicago home for fatherless families. At one time, she was arrested at this home and charged with disturbing the peace (she encouraged other mothers to question the institution’s rules), but was acquitted. A court-ordered psychological exam found here to be paranoid.
From 1944 to 1947, Paul Nemenyi was an instructor at the State College of Washington (now Washington State University in Pullman, Washington). He also worked at Hanford, Washington on the Manhattan Project working on a mechanism which triggered the atomic bomb. Dr. Robert Oppenheimer may have helped Paul get work at Hanford. Peter Nemenyi joined his father, but was later drafted and served in Northern Italy, outside Trieste.
In 1947, he was appointed physicist with the Naval Ordinance Laboratory in White Oak, Maryland. He was head of the theoretical mechanics section of the laboratory. He was one of the world’s leading authorities on elasticity and fluid dynamics.
Dr. Nemenyi took a deep interest in Bobby Fischer and even paid child support to Regina. At one time, in 1947, when Bobby was 3, he complained to a social worker about the way Regina was raising Bobby. He told the caseworker that Regina was mentally upset and Bobby was an upset child.
In 1947, an informant told the FBI that Paul Nemenyi remarked that the Soviet system was superior to that of the United States.
In 1949, Dr. Paul Nemenyi went to a social worker again, complaining that his son was not being brought up in desirable circumstances, due to the instability of Regina.
In 1951, he wrote a review of the Encyclopedia Britannica for The New Republic and declared it out of date. He suggested improvements in a variety of topics, including psychology and psychoanalysis.
Dr. Paul Nemenyi died of a heart attack on March 1, 1952, at the age of 56. He had just stopped at a dance at the International Student House in Washington, DC. There, he dropped dead of a heart attack. He was living in Washington, DC, and working at the U.S. Naval Research Lab. He was survived by his son, Peter, a civil-rights activist and a mathematics student at Princeton. Peter wrote that his father, Paul, was the father of Bobby Fischer.
At the time of his death, Paul was paying for 8-year-old Bobby’s education and sending $20 a week to Regina.
When Nemenyi died, he had an envelope full of letters. The police turned these letters over to the FBI. In one of the letters, a female friend wrote that he (Paul) should not spend too much time worrying about Peter and Bobby. She wrote, “I am sorry that you have so many sorrows with your children.”
At the time of Nemenyi’s death, Regina was in nursing school in Brooklyn, broke, and facing eviction.
Photos of Paul Nemenyi bear a striking physical resemblance to Bobby Fischer. The FBI file described Dr. Nenemyi “as having a large nose, large knobby fingers, and an awkward, slovenly walk and dress.”
When Dr. Paul Nemenyi died, Regina Fischer wrote to Peter Nemenyi, who was attending Black Mountain College in Asheville, NC. “Bobby has not had a decent meal at home this past month and was sick for two days with fever and sore throat and, of course, a doctor or medicine was out of the question. I don’t think Paul would have wanted to leave Bobby this way and would ask you most urgently to let me know if Paul left anything for Bobby. Bobby is still expecting Paul.” She also wrote that she could not afford to patch his torn shoes.
Regina did not want to tell Bobby of Paul Nemenyi’s death and was hoping that Peter Nemenyi would do it. He was not comfortable with that, so he consulted a family doctor for advice. He wrote to his family doctor, “I take it you know that Paul was Bobby Fischer’s father. The matter is further complicated by the false pretenses about Bobby’s identity and the parents’ difference of opinion over the question.” Peter felt he was not qualified to tell Bobby about Paul’s death since Peter had met Bobby only a few times.
In 1963, Peter Nemenyi received his Doctorate in mathematics from Princeton.
In the 1960s, Bobby’s half-brother, Peter Nemenyi, was beaten and arrested while trying to help black voters in Mississippi and trying to integrate coffee shops. In 2002, Peter killed himself in Durham, NC, at the age of 75, after suffering from prostrate cancer.
In 2002, an article by Peter Nicholas and Clea Benson of The Philadelphia Inquirer suggests that Nemenyi may be the biological father of Bobby Fischer. Through the Freedom of Information Act, they were able to obtain a 750-page file (file 100-102290) that the FBI had on Regina Fischer.
An FBI report claimed that both Hans-Gerhardt Fischer and Dr, Paul Nemenyi harbored Soviet sympathies.
Hans-Gerhardt (sometimes written as Gerard or Gerhard) Fischer was born on September 28, 1908 in Berlin, Germany. He was a Jew and worked in Berlin in the early 1930s, where he met Regina Wender, whose father, Jacob (Jack) Wender, was a Polish dress cutter. Hans and Regina moved to Moscow in 1933 and were married in Moscow on November 4, 1933. She was 20, he was 25. He was a biophysicist and may have fought the Fascists in the Spanish civil war in the 1930s. She was studying medicine at the First Moscow Medical Institute and he was studying biophysics. Regina stayed for a year in medical school but never graduated. Quitting school, she worked as a riveter in a defense plant in the Soviet Union.
Their first born child, Joan Fischer, was born in Moscow in 1938. She died in 1998.
In 1939, Regina and Hans left Moscow together and traveled first to Austria.
In 1939, Regina Fischer returned to the United States with her daughter, Joan. She was born in Switzerland but raised in St. Louis, Missouri and was a naturalized American citizen. She caught one of the last ships leaving France for America. It is not clear if Hans-Gerhardt was on this ship. The FBI does say that Hans-Gerhardt Fischer never entered the United States from any ship (was he a suspected Soviet spy?). The FBI file says that Hans Gerhardt Fischer (Gerardo Liebscher) lived for a time in Port San Antonio, Chile where he sold fluorescent lights and worked as a photographer.
The FBI suspected that Hans might be a Soviet spy targeting Nazis in South America. In one letter to Regina, he made what the FBI called a cryptic reference to photographing fisherman (Nazis?) at a Chilean port. During that time, several German agents had been arrested there, posing as fisherman.
Regina later divorced Hans-Gerhardt in 1945. He never lived with her in the United States. He remained a lifelong German citizen. Hans later married Renata Sternaux in Algarrobo, Chile.
Bobby Fischer’s only public statement about his father appeared in Start, a Zagreb newspaper. “My father left my mother when I was two. I have never seen him. My mother has only told me that his name was Gerhardt and that he was of German descent.” Fischer once said, “Children who miss a parent become wolves.”
Later, Bobby Fischer told a friend that he and Joan did not have the same father. Joan Fischer Targ always insisted that her father’s name was Hans-Gerhardt Fischer.
Hans-Gerhardt Fischer died on February 25, 1993 in Berlin, Germany.
Regina Wender was born on March 31, 1913 in Zurich, Switzerland.
Regina Wender Fischer Pustin died of cancer on July 27, 1997 at the age of 84 in the Stanford University Hospital. Bobby Fischer died on January 17, 2008 in Reykjavik, Iceland.