Albert and his first wife Mileva
German-born Albert Einstein (1879-1955) became the world’s most famous physicist. I briefly examined his early life and first wife Mileva Marić (1875–1948) whom he married in Zurich in 1903. In 1905 he published his vital scientific papers that made him famous. By 1908, he was recognised as a leading scientist at Bern Uni, completing his work on the general theory of relativity.
In 1917, as director of the new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics in Berlin, Einstein re-took German citizenship. Meanwhile the publication of experimental evidence supporting his general relativity theory made huge impacts in academe. After their 1919 divorce, Mileva took their two sons to Zurich, so Albert could immediately marry his wife-cousin Elsa and adopt her children.
Einstein first visited New York in 1921 where he was officially welcomed by organiser Chaim Weizmann, President of the World Zionist Organisation. This was followed by weeks of lectures and receptions at Columbia and Princeton Universities, and at the National Academy of Science.
How did Einstein earn the title of one of the greatest ever geniuses? With his arrival in New York; American journalists quickly picked up on the broader appreciation for the foreign scientist. Appreciation wasn’t universal because the US then was quite xenophobic, suspicious of science and fearful of domination. But the nation was also greatly concerned with advancement. By the time he left the U.S in mid 1921, Einstein was indeed a genius.
He won the Physics Nobel Prize in 1922! But as a Jew, he’d closely observed the rise of Nazism in Berlin in the 1920s.
Einstein admired Toni Meyer Mendel; they first met early in Weimar Republic (1919-33), Germany’s noble years of democracy; both the Einstein and Mendel families belonged to the same pacifist association Bund Neues Vaterland. In pre-Hitler Berlin, they’d all lived together in Tony’s grand villa on the Wannsee, the interior designed by Walter Gropius. Bruno Mendel was a medical researcher who built a private laboratory in his villa!
Einstein loved playing music himself
and loved listening to concerts
Toni became a wealthy, emancipated widow who loved travel. She was a regular companion of Einstein, and their close friendship was grimly tolerated by wife Elsa. Einstein and Toni sailed together, discussed Freud, and shared concerts. Toni’s Weimar-culture intrigued Einstein, whose interests ranged far beyond physics. He was devoted to music, playing chamber music himself. And he was closely engaged in the excited scholarship of the Weimar era! When Hitler came to power, Toni quickly emigrated to Toronto.
In Mar 1933, Albert exiled himself in Belgium with Elsa. In late Jul 1933, after the Nazi regime forced famous German Jews to flee, Einstein visited the UK on a political mission: to help Germany’s Jews. He first had a meeting with Winston Churchill at Chartwell House to discuss Nazism.
From the Distinguished Visitors’ Gallery of Parliament, Einstein listened to a speech in the House of Commons. The speaker was an upper-class, right-wing Conservative M.P, Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson who wanted Britain to extend citizenship to desperate refugees from outside the British Empire. And the House voted to support the MP’s bill on its first reading! The Nazi newspaper Völkischer Beobachter immediately attacked, saying Locker-Lampson staged the event solely for self-publicity.
Albert and his second wife, Elsa
Chaim Weizmann welcomed Albert to New York, 1921Later the president of Israel (1949–52)
for a welcome by New York City's mayor, April 1921.
Einstein returned to Belgium, where the Nazi leadership savaged him. Firstly they attacked Albert’s “pacifism” when he called for European rearmament against the German threat. Secondly Einstein had publicly endorsed a left-wing book The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror i.e an eyewitness report from Germany with horrifying photos of Nazi pogroms, burnings and tortures. Fortunately the Belgian king had the police constantly protect Einstein. Still, a secret Nazi terror organisation Fehme had targeted the scientist
Einstein packed some vital books and papers, and travelled from Belgium to the UK. He went to a hut on a Norfolk heath, to focus on theoretical physics in peace. During his UK visit in Sep-Oct 1933, organised by Locker-Lampson, Britain’s national newspapers photographed Einstein in hiding! Locker-Lampson organised a public meeting at the Royal Albert Hall; the German physicist and British speakers raised funds for academic Jewish German refugees. Einstein spoke on Science and Civilisation in his cautious English, to huge applause from the huge audience. Note there were also British Union of Fascists Blackshirts attending. Einstein told newspapers the kindness of the British people had touched his heart deeply. Then left for USA.
Einstein lived the rest of his life in America, at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He was so involved with both physics and Cold War politics that he never returned to Europe. Elsa was diagnosed with organ failure in 1935 and died in 1936. He continued his work and his active social life, with a Russian sculptor’s wife, secretary Betty Neumann, and Toni Mendel again.
In 1953 with the USA gripped by the televised McCarthy hearings, Einstein took a well reported public stand against the loathed House Un-American Activities Committee.
In July 1955 after Einstein’s death, British academic Bertrand Russell announced the Russell-Einstein Manifesto in London. Warning the world of the dangers of a nuclear war, the signature had been Einstein’s last public act.
Find Einstein on the Road, to read his travelling diaries.