Robert O. Fisch, physician, artist and author, died at home on his 97th birthday. He was born in Budapest, Hungary, on June 12, 1925, the son of Zoltan and Iren Fisch. A survivor of the Holocaust, he was liberated by American soldiers from the Gunskirchen death camp in Austria in May, 1945.
Robert returned to Budapest to earn a medical degree. Because he refused to join the Communist party, he was denied specialization and banished to general practice in a mining village. Active in the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, he escaped in 1957 and came to the University of Minnesota as a medical intern in 1958.
For his heroism against Communist suppression, the Hungarian government awarded him a medal in 1995 and a knighthood in 2000.
In 2019, Robert received the highest honor awarded by the Hungarian state, the Knight’s Cross of the Hungarian Order of Merit, for his contribution to Holocaust education.
Robert was a professor of pediatric medicine at the University of Minnesota Medical School until his retirement in 1997. He was internationally recognized for his clinical research in phenylketonuria (PKU) and for his pioneering PKU and child development studies.
Robert was the author or co-author of more than 100 scientific papers. Over the years he cared for thousands of patients and their families, and trained and mentored hundreds of medical students.
A strong advocate of early childhood education and especially of the value of reading to children, Robert established Project Read, an initiative where volunteers read and gave books to children in pediatric clinic waiting rooms.
Robert studied art at the Academy of Fine Arts in Budapest, the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, the U of M, and the Walker Art Center. He achieved a distinguished second career as a visual artist and author.
He published five books including “Light from the Yellow Star: A Lesson of Love from the Holocaust,” which portrays his Holocaust experience and “The Metamorphosis to Freedom,” a testimonial to freedom.
The book, “Light from the Yellow Star,” is provided to schools in the U.S. through the Yellow Star Foundation. A Hungarian version is used by schools there, and a German edition is distributed in Germany and Austria. The book emphasizes the need to learn from the Holocaust that we must remain human even in inhumane circumstances.
Robert’s paintings have been exhibited in the U.S., Europe and Israel, including at the Weisman Art Museum and the Minneapolis Institute of Art. His last show, of new paintings, occurred in April, 2019. His painting “Creation” will hang in the Masonic Institute for the Developing Brain at the University of Minnesota. Robert is survived by his daughter, Alex Fisch (Kurt Stevens) of Abiquiu, N.M., and wife Karen Bachman. He was preceded in death by his brother, Paul. At Robert’s request, services will be held at the Jewish Memorial Cemetery in Budapest, where he will be interred with his father, who died in the Holocaust. Contributions in memory of Robert may be sent to the Yellow Star Foundation at yellowstarfoundation.org.