Let­ter shows Ein­stein fear­ful long be­fore Nazis’ rise

Po­lice had warned physi­cist his life could be in dan­ger

The Maui News - - TODAY’S PEOPLE - By ARON HELLER The As­so­ci­ated Press

JERUSALEM — More than a decade be­fore the Nazis seized power in Ger­many, Al­bert Ein­stein was on the run and al­ready fear­ful for his coun­try’s fu­ture, ac­cord­ing to a newly re­vealed hand­writ­ten let­ter.

His long­time friend and fel­low Jew, Ger­man For­eign Min­is­ter Walther Ra­thenau, had just been as­sas­si­nated by right-wing ex­trem­ists and po­lice had warned the noted physi­cist that his life could be in dan­ger too.

So Ein­stein fled Ber­lin and went into hid­ing in north­ern Ger­many. It was dur­ing this hia­tus that he penned a hand­writ­ten let­ter to his beloved younger sis­ter, Maja, warn­ing of the dan­gers of grow­ing na­tion­al­ism and anti-Semitism years be­fore the Nazis ul­ti­mately rose to power, forc­ing Ein­stein to flee his na­tive Ger­many for good.

“Out here, no­body knows where I am, and I’m be­lieved to be miss­ing,” he wrote in Au­gust 1922. “Here are brew­ing eco­nom­i­cally and po­lit­i­cally dark times, so I’m happy to be able to get away from ev­ery­thing.”

The pre­vi­ously un­known let­ter, brought for­ward by an anony­mous col­lec­tor, is set to go on auc­tion next week in Jerusalem with an open­ing ask­ing price of $12,000.

As the most in­flu­en­tial sci­en­tist of the 20th cen­tury, Ein­stein’s life and writ­ings have been thor­oughly re­searched. The He­brew Uni­ver­sity in Jerusalem, of which Ein­stein was a founder, houses the world’s largest col­lec­tion of Ein­stein ma­te­rial. To­gether with the Cal­i­for­nia In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy it runs the Ein­stein Pa­pers Project. In­di­vid­ual auc­tions of his per­sonal let­ters have brought in sub­stan­tial sums in re­cent years.

The 1922 let­ter shows he was con­cerned about Ger­many’s fu­ture a full year be­fore the Nazis even at­tempted their first coup — the failed Mu­nich Beer Hall Putsch to seize power in Bavaria.

“This let­ter re­veals to us the thoughts that were run­ning through Ein­stein’s mind and heart at a very pre­lim­i­nary stage of Nazi ter­ror,” said Meron Eren, co-owner of the Ke­dem Auc­tion House in Jerusalem, which ob­tained the let­ter and of­fered The As­so­ci­ated Press a glimpse be­fore the pub­lic sale. “The re­la­tion­ship be­tween Al­bert and Maja was very spe­cial and close, which adds an­other di­men­sion to Ein­stein the man and greater au­then­tic­ity to his writ­ings.”

The let­ter, which bears no re­turn ad­dress, is pre­sumed to have been writ­ten while he was stay­ing in the port city of Kiel be­fore em­bark­ing on a lengthy speak­ing tour across Asia.

“I’m do­ing pretty well, de­spite all the anti-Semites among the Ger­man col­leagues. I’m very reclu­sive here, with­out noise and with­out un­pleas­ant feel­ings, and am earn­ing my money mainly in­de­pen­dent of the state, so that I’m re­ally a free man,” he wrote. “You see, I am about to be­come some kind of itin­er­ant preacher. That is, firstly, pleas­ant and, se­condly, nec­es­sary.”

Ad­dress­ing his sis­ter’s con­cerns, Ein­stein writes: “Don’t worry about me, I my­self don’t worry ei­ther, even if it’s not quite kosher, peo­ple are very upset. In Italy, it seems to be at least as bad.”

Later in 1922, Ein­stein was awarded the No­bel Prize in physics.

Ze’ev Rosenkrantz, the as­sis­tant di­rec­tor of the Ein­stein Pa­pers Project at Cal­tech, said the let­ter wasn’t the first time Ein­stein warned about Ger­man anti-Semitism, but it cap­tured his state of mind at this im­por­tant junc­tion af­ter Ra­thenau’s killing and the “in­ter­nal ex­ile” he im­posed on him­self shortly af­ter it.

“Ein­stein’s ini­tial re­ac­tion was one of panic and a de­sire to leave Ger­many for good. Within a week, he had changed his mind,” he said. “The let­ter re­veals a mind­set rather typ­i­cal of Ein­stein in which he claims to be im­per­vi­ous to ex­ter­nal pres­sures. One rea­son may be to as­suage his sis­ter’s con­cerns. An­other is that he didn’t like to ad­mit that he was stressed about ex­ter­nal fac­tors.”

When the Nazis came to power and be­gan en­act­ing leg­is­la­tion against Jews, they also aimed to purge Jewish sci­en­tists. The Nazis dis­missed Ein­stein’s ground­break­ing work, in­clud­ing his Law of Rel­a­tiv­ity, as “Jewish Physics.”

Ein­stein re­nounced his Ger­man cit­i­zen­ship in 1933 af­ter Hitler be­came chan­cel­lor. The physi­cist set­tled in the United States, where he would re­main un­til his death in 1955.

Ein­stein de­clined an in­vi­ta­tion to serve as the first pres­i­dent of the newly es­tab­lished state of Is­rael but left be­hind his lit­er­ary es­tate and per­sonal pa­pers to the He­brew Uni­ver­sity.

Ke­dem Auc­tion House photo via AP

This photo re­leased by the Ke­dem Auc­tion House shows a copy of a 1922 let­ter Al­bert Ein­stein wrote to his beloved younger sis­ter, Maja. The pre­vi­ously un­known let­ter, brought for­ward by an anony­mous col­lec­tor, is set to go on auc­tion next week in Jerusalem with an open­ing ask­ing price of $12,000. In the hand­writ­ten let­ter, Ein­stein ex­pressed fears of anti-Semitism long be­fore Nazis’ rise.

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