FBI: target Fischer


Regina Fischer, the mother of the most legendary chess player of all time, was hunted by federal agents for decades. Bobby Fischer’s eccentric and paranoid character can only be explained by a dramatic family story

On the night of March 26, 1958, Bobby Fischer appeared on “I’ve Got a Secret,” an NBC television program in which a group of panelists, a jury of presenters, had to find out what the secret was, the performance or skill of the guests. A few weeks earlier, at the Manhattan Chess Club in New York, Bobby had declared himself national chess champion at just 14 years old, ahead of Samuel Reshevsky, the heavy favorite. Fischer did not lose a game and became the youngest chess player to win the overall US championship. On the set that night, Bobby met actress Carol Lynley, NBA player Oscar Robertson and Canadian singer Paul Anka, who topped the charts with his hit “Diana.”

The host, Garry Moore, welcomed Fischer as “Mr. X” and asked him to show the newspaper headline he held to the camera. Fischer showed the cover up close: “A teenager’s strategy beats all his rivals.” That was the clue to discovering his identity. Dick Clark, one of the panelists, asked, “Is that strategy related to finance?” Fisher denied. “Did you get help?” Clark insisted. Same answer. “Did you do it alone? Did you make people happy?” With a slight arch of his eyebrows, Fischer replied, “It made me happy.” The audience laughed at the boy’s performance. Clark continued with the questioning, “That’s a good start… Does what you do take place indoors?” “Yes,” replied Bobby. At that moment, a loud acoustic signal sounded on the set. “You’re over your time,” Garry Moore remarked. “This guy’s name is Bobby Fischer, he’s 15 years old, and get this, he’s already an American chess champion!” spontaneous applause

Moore then opened a pink envelope. He told the audience that Bobby had been invited to play other grandmasters in Moscow and Yugoslavia, and that it would be a shame if an American could not attend due to lack of funds. Then he looked at Fischer and said, “Here are two return tickets for you and your older sister to travel to Moscow on Sabena Airlines.” We see Fischer agitated and beaming. He was so excited that when he left the stage, he tripped over Moore’s microphone cord. It fell to the ground for a reason. Among the audience, who once again applauded with real enthusiasm, as if firing the utopian hero before he fought the big battle, an FBI agent took careful note of what happened. The trip to Moscow was really a cause for suspicion.

Since 1942, the FBI had tightened its grip on Bobby’s mother, Regina Fischer. This circumstance was discovered only in 2002, thanks to the efforts of journalists Peter Nicholas and Clea Benson (husband and wife, by the way), who requested a report from Regina Fischer under the Freedom of Information Act. The surprise of the marriage was capital. The file they received from the FBI on Regina contained more than 900 pages and a wealth of intimate details about the Fischer family. The chess player Shelby Lyman, commentator on American television during the world championship between Fischer and Spassky, spoke about this shadowy case in the magnificent documentary ‘Bobby Fischer against the world’ (2011): «The FBI was obsessed with Regina, who was considered to be a communist spy.

The clues that motivated this Justice Department obsession go back in time. Regina was born in Geneva in 1913, but when she was four months old, her parents emigrated to New York. His mother, Natalia Wender, was committed to the Greystone Park Psychiatric Center for more than three years. He died as a victim of mental illness. In 1919, Regina and her older brother, Max, were admitted to the Brooklyn Hebrew Asylum for Orphans. After a stint at the orphanage, the brothers reunited in San Luis with their father, Jacob, who had already remarried. Academically, Regina was always a brilliant student. In 1932 he decided to travel to Berlin, where his brother Max was stationed in the Marine Corps. In Germany, Regina met the biologist Herman Muller, a prominent scientist -years later he won the Nobel Prize-, with whom he collaborated on various projects. Müller accepted an offer to work in Moscow, and Regina, without thinking twice, went with him. In the capital of Moscow, Regina studied medicine. At one point he came into contact with another employee of Dr. Muller, a German biophysicist who worked at the Brain Institute. His name was so unpronounceable (Leiebscher) and sounded so Jewish that the biophysicist changed it to a more Germanic name: Hans Gerhardt Fischer. A few months later, Regina and Gerhardt were married. Therefore, it is correct to say that the risky adventure of the Fischer family, paradoxically, begins and takes root in the very heart of the Soviet Union.

Historian Bill Wall summarizes as a narrative what happened from this point in the story. In 1938, the Fischers had a daughter, Joan, born in Moscow. The Stalinist anti-Semitism of those years motivated the couple to flee to Paris in search of a safer place. Later, Regina returned to the United States with little Joan. But Hans, a German citizen, was “not allowed” to enter, so he eventually settled in Chile. David Edmonds and John Eidinow, in their fantastic book “Bobby Fischer Went to War,” rely on secret FBI reports to claim that Bobby Fischer’s biological father was not Hans, but a Hungarian physicist named Paul Nemenyi, with whom Regina Fischer had a relationship started in 1942. I have highlighted some relevant milestones in Paul Nemenyi’s life in red. In Berlin he was arrested by Hitler’s Schutzstaffel (SS) because of his socialist beliefs. He arrived in the United States in 1938. He went to the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, looking for Albert Einstein. He offered his services. Eventually, he worked with Einstein’s son at Iowa State University. Remember, Bobby Fischer was born in 1943 in Chicago. Official documents state the name Hans Gerhardt Fischer as the father. But the FBI stamped Paul Felix Nemenyi’s name in one of his files. Then he added, “Bobby Fischer’s father.”

Regina never told her son about this. She argued that she had traveled to Mexico in 1942 and was reunited with her husband. There she would have become pregnant. But Frank Brady, Bobby Fischer’s biographer, denies Regina’s version: “It seems that Paul Nemenyi was the real father.” In legal terms, it’s not evidence of indictment, but if you search for an image of Nemenyi, you’ll see the formidable physionomic resemblance he has to Bobby Fischer. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that Paul Nemenyi helped Regina Fischer financially for years. Apparently every two or three weeks he sent an envelope with twenty dollars. Occasionally he even visited the home of the Fischer family. And he met Bobby, who was already a genius on the board at that time.

Bobby’s genius was undoubtedly an inherited trait. Regina spoke six languages ​​(English, French, German, Portuguese, Spanish and Russian) and her father, I mean Paul Nemenyi, was an expert in hydraulic research. Fischer’s IQ at age 15 was between 180 and 187 on the Stanford-Binet scale, a stratospheric score, higher than Albert Einstein’s. But genetic predisposition aside, the truth is that Bobby Fischer put his talent to good use. He devoured books. I bought them at the Four Continents Book Store in Greenwich Village, the main distributor of Soviet literature in New York. Fischer could read for twelve or fourteen hours straight. He analyzed the games of the great Soviet champions and was especially fond of Mikhail Botvinnik’s playing style. His passion for books was so great that he learned Russian, self-taught, with the sole aim of not escaping his understanding. Deep down, and despite the distance, from the sleepless nights he spent in his modest Brooklyn apartment, we could say that Bobby Fischer belonged to the Soviet chess school.

The Four Continents Bookstore was another hot spot for the FBI. Anyone who entered or left the establishment became a potential communist. Regina, in a state of constant alertness, gathered reasons to worry. The house phone was tapped. Your bank account checked. Two federal agents had wanted to question her. “Bobby, if they come to ask you questions,” he told his son one day, “even if it’s just to find out how old you are or what school you go to, just say, ‘I have nothing to say. . them.’ Don’t change the words. You understand me? “I have nothing to tell you.”

For a while, the circle that the FBI drew around the Fischers lost much of its strength, but in 1957 Regina contacted the Soviet Embassy in the United States and, as expected, this move reactivated the monitoring protocol. Why are you communicating with the embassy?, they wondered at the Ministry of Justice. Regina just wanted to fulfill Bobby’s dream, who insisted again and again on his idea to travel to Moscow to play against the best chess players. Months later, on January 7, 1958, Bobby Fischer became the youngest champion in American chess history. The performance wasn’t in Regina’s script, at least not that soon, but she knew how to take advantage of it to up her game. When the NBC chain wanted to take Bobby to the set of ‘I’ve got a secret,’ Regina set only one condition: two return tickets for her son to travel permanently to Moscow.

That’s how it all started.

Source: La Verdad


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