Remembering Bobby – Part 2

by Nagesh Havanur
4/14/2016 – The first article in the series asked the question, "Who was Bobby’s real father?" Here you have the answer. It’s a story that begins with a whiff of romance and moves on to trials and travails of motherhood. This part of Bobby’s saga appears on the inaugural day of the U.S. Championship, an event that he dominated like no other. Revelations from personal letters and telegrams.

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Remembering Bobby: Part II

by Prof. Nagesh Havanur

Continued from Part I

Berlin, April 1st, 1933

It was a knock they all dreaded, but Paul Nemenyi never thought one day it would be for him. True, he was a member of the ISK, a Left group, but they were hardly a threat to the Reich with all that talk about ethical socialism. Besides, he didn’t even count as a leader. So who had denounced him? The S.S. men arrested him any way. They said he had spread “calumny” against the Führer, which in those days was a euphemism for any criticism of Hitler.

They didn’t detain him for long though. 'Want of evidence', they said. Still, his relief was short-lived and a week later he was dismissed from the university. His offence: he was a Jew. Then again, so were many others. They all had to go.

Till then he had everything going for him with a doctorate in science and an excellent academic work on hydraulic engineering.

Now his career was finished and survival itself was at stake. He had separated from his wife long since, and his only concern was his son, Peter, six-years-old at the time, with whom he fled Germany.

Years later the son, Peter Nemenyi recalled with telling irony, “I was born in Germany and my parents came from Hungary. They were refugees who had fled Hungary. They thought Germany would be just the right place to flee as they found out in 1933”

It was too late for regret anyway. After a brief spell in Denmark Peter Nemenyi left his son under the care of his socialist friends in England and made it to the USA. It was not easy for him to find a secure job, as hundreds of academics fleeing Europe faced a similar plight.  Consequently, he hopped from one job to another. While he was an instructor at a college in Colorado, he met Regina Fischer, a student at the University of Denver. He was 47 and she was 29.

Paul Nemenyi and Regina Fischer

Nemenyi might have been past his youth, but he still exuded charm. His robust intellect and force of character appealed to Regina. He in turn was captivated by her vivacious personality. Each was lonely, each recovering from a broken marriage, and romance bloomed in that summer of ’42. The frisson between the two culminated in a union and soon Regina became pregnant. When she felt the first stirrings of life in her womb she was alarmed. She had yet to obtain divorce from her estranged husband, Hans-Bernhardt Fischer. With a poorly paid a job and a little daughter to support she could hardly fend for herself.

Nemenyi’s reaction was also one of shock and disbelief. Nothing had prepared him for this situation. Regina sent her daughter to stay with her father, Jacob Wender, during her pregnancy. When the time came she got herself admitted to the hospital and delivered a baby on March 9th, 1943. The newborn was named Robert James Fischer. Nemenyi could not make it to the hospital and she was alone.

Nemenyi did suggest giving away the baby in adoption, an idea that was angrily rejected by Regina. He made amends as the child grew up. Week after week he sent $20
(a lot of money in those days) and also paid for Bobby’s education. He visited Regina whenever he could and took the child to parks and restaurants. A warm relationship soon developed between him and Bobby who instinctively took to him and looked forward to his visits.

In 1945 the war came to an end, and Regina finally obtained a divorce from Gerhardt Fischer. As for Nemenyi, he arranged to get his son, Peter, back from England. His wife was no more and he took his duty as a single parent more seriously than ever before. Peter was bright and the young man became a post-graduate student at Princeton University. Meanwhile, Nemenyi’s fortunes also improved, and he was now living in Washington, working at the U.S. Naval Research Laboratory.

Then disaster struck. On March 1st, 1952, he had stopped at a dance at the International Student House where he collapsed, struck by a heart attack. He was only 56 when he died. His son, Peter, wrote to Regina, conveying the news. She was devastated. She had lost the anchor of her life. She could not bring herself to break the news to Bobby and tell him the truth. He had just turned nine. Hoping Peter Nemenyi would recognize Bobby as his half brother and together they could cope with the loss and rebuild their lives, she sent Peter a telegram begging him to tell Bobby who his father was and what had happened.

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She was mistaken. Peter did not want to have anything to do with her and Bobby.

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Thinking Regina would not let it go, on the same day he addressed a letter to Dr. Harold Kline, the psychiatrist who had known both her and Bobby:

13th March, 1952

Dear Dr. Kline:
I am writing to you for some advice on a question concerning Bobby Fischer. Paul Nemenyi died recently (March 1st). I take it you know that Paul was Bobby Fischer’s father. The question arises from a telegram that Bobby’s mother, Mrs. Regina Fischer, sent me with the request to tell Bobby the news for her. I hardly know Bobby at all, having only met him twice (and only briefly) … I have written to Regina Fischer, telling her I don’t feel qualified to break the news to Bobby and that I am writing to you for advice.

Sincerely yours,
Peter Nemenyi

By now Regina was in dire straits. Those were the years of recession. She was out of work and there was no money in the house. As a result, she had not been able to pay rent and received eviction notice from the landlord. She wrote to Peter asking him if he knew anyone who could get her some typing or translation work. She made one more appeal for her son.

“Bobby has not had a decent meal at home this past month and was sick 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” and added, "Bobby is still expecting Paul.” (Regina Fischer to Peter Nemenyi, 30th March, 1952)

But young Peter had problems of his own.

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Paul Nemenyi had passed away without leaving a will. It is not known whether Peter made good on his promise and offered any funds to Regina and Bobby after his father’s estate was cleared by the court, but he and his lawyer did make sure that Regina and Bobby did not lay claim to Nemenyi estate. When Peter’s lawyer filed the statement in the court the following point was included:

"...that one Robert Fischer, a minor, living with his mother Regina Fischer, at 560 Lincoln Place, New York City, was born to the decedent out of wedlock and that said Robert Fischer is not an heir and does not claim to be an heir of the above decedent and that said Regina Fischer is not the wife and does not claim to be the wife of the above named decedent."

In a recent book on Bobby Fischer, author, Dr. Joseph G. Ponterotto cites this very passage and adds, Regina signed the statement. How Peter and his lawyer got her to sign is not known.

More pertinently, the Nemenyi family had disowned her and Bobby.  One can only wonder at the injustice of it all. Nevertheless, Peter was not alone to blame. If Paul Nemenyi had cared enough, he would have brought home both the woman he loved and the child he had sired. He didn’t, and therein lay the tragedy.

P.S: We owe much of this information to the journalist couple, Peter Nicholas and Clea Benson who unearthed it during the period 2002-2008. They located Peter Nemenyi papers from the University of Wisconsin and the probate document related to Paul Nemenyi from court archives. While their efforts deserve to be appreciated, I have some reservations about the timing of these disclosures. They were made when Bobby was still living. There is a slender line that separates the public and the private sphere. When an individual lives, his right to privacy has to be respected.

True, Bobby was an elusive figure we all wanted to know about, but these revelations concerning his parentage could have waited during his lifetime. They deserved to be shown after he passed into history, not before.

Acknowledgement: The documents shown here were obtained from the Wisconsin Historical Society. Valuable help was extended by Mr. Lee Grady, Reference Archivist. Much appreciated.

To be continued...

Previous parts:

Remembering Bobby – Part 1 

3/11/2016 – Eight years ago Bobby Fischer, American prodigy and World Champion passed away at the age of 64 (the significance of that number is not lost on our readers). Today he would now be 73, and to celebrate his birthday just passed on March 9th, we bring you a series of articles on the life and games of this legendary player. Let's start from the beginning.


Prof. Nagesh Havanur (otherwise known as "chessbibliophile") is a senior academic and research scholar. He taught English in Mumbai for three decades and has now settled in Bangalore, India. His interests include chess history, biography and opening theory. He has been writing on the Royal Game for more than three decades. His articles and reviews have appeared on several web sites and magazines.


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