Albert Einstein is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating and
influential figures of the modern era. As a preeminent physicist, he radically
transformed our understanding of the universe. As an ardent humanist, he took an
active and outspoken stance on the significant political and social issues of
his time. As a committed Jew, he advocated a distinctive moral role for the
Albert Einstein's contribution to modern physics is simply unique. His scientific career was a constant quest for the universal and immutable laws which govern the physical world. His theories spanned the fundamental questions of nature, from the very large to the very small, from the cosmos to sub-atomic particles. He overturned the established concepts of time and space, energy and matter. Einstein played a crucial role in establishing the two pillars of 20th century physics: he was the father of the theory of relativity and a major contributor to quantum theory.
Einstein was a theoretical physicist - his only concrete tools being pencil and paper. It has been said that his true tools were a penetrating and intuitive grasp of the workings of the natural world and the "thought experiment" - an intellectual exercise used by physicists to reach a theoretical conclusion from idealized physical processes. Yet, Einstein was not a purely abstract thinker. He grasped the world in concrete images and strove to translate them into words and equations that could be understood by others.
Science was Albert Einstein's first love, yet he always found time to devote tireless efforts to political causes close to his heart. His ardent humanism led him to strive for peace, freedom and social justice. The young Einstein found the authoritarianism and militarism of the German educational system profoundly disturbing. The virulent nationalism and brutality of the First World War served to confirm Einstein's pacifist and internationalist convictions.
In the 1920s, Einstein became an active leader of the international anti-war movement and supported conscientious objection. However, the Nazi rise to power brought about a substantial change in Einstein's position: he began to advocate military preparedness by the European democracies against the threat of Nazism. In this context, Einstein wrote his famous letter to U.S. President Roosevelt in which he urged him to initiate an American nuclear research program. With the onset of the atomic era, Einstein realized that nuclear weapons were a profound risk to humanity and could bring an end to civilization. During the last decade of his life, he was tireless in his efforts to create effective international cooperation to prevent war.
Throughout his life, Albert Einstein felt a close affinity with the Jewish people. Einstein defined Judaism as a culture with a shared historical past and common ethical values rather than as an institutionalized religion. For him the main values of Judaism were intellectual aspiration and the pursuit of social justice. Like Spinoza, he did not believe in a personal god, but that the divine reveals itself in the physical world. Einstein supported the creation of a homeland for the Jews in Palestine. However, he stipulated that any solution of the Arab-Jewish conflict had to be based on mutual understanding and consent.
Albert Einstein was one of the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served on the University's first Board of Governors and Academic Council. He delivered the University's inaugural scientific lecture and edited its first collection of scientific papers. His unique relationship to this institution found a lasting expression in the bequest of his literary estate and personal papers to the Hebrew University in his Last Will and Testament.
The Einsteins' first two years in Princeton were spent in a two-family house at 2 Library Place. By 1935 Einstein had decided to remain in Princeton and began the formal process of obtaining permanent residency in the United States. The family moved to the white, two-story house at 112 Mercer Street, which would become their permanent home.
After Einstein's death in 1955 (Elsa had died in 1936), his daughter Margot and Helen Dukas remained in the house until their deaths in 1986 and 1982, respectively. At Einstein's request the house has never been turned into a museum or public shrine; today it is owned by the Institute for Advanced Study and is used as a private residence.
". . . these two old people sitting together with their bushy hair, in complete
agreement, understanding and love."
-Lily Kahler, a close family friend, describing Einstein and his sister Maja
After Elsa Einstein's death, Helen Dukas took charge of the household, which consisted of Einstein, his daughter Margot, and his sister Maja. Einstein was devoted to his sister, who lived with him from 1939 until her death in 1951, reading to her nightly after she was bedridden from a stroke.
Einstein had two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard, from his first marriage to Mileva Maric, which ended in divorce. In 1919 he married his cousin, Elsa Einstein L÷wenthal, and adopted her two daughters, Ilse and Margot. (Ilse died of an illness in 1934.) Margot, an artist and sculptor, shared a deep love of nature with her father.
Devoting the majority of his time to scientific work, Einstein also found enjoyment in sailing, often taking advantage of Princeton's Lake Carnegie, and music, especially the work of Mozart. Einstein was a well-known figure in Princeton, due in no small part to his shock of white hair, his refusal to wear socks, and his total absorption in scientific problems. Many Princeton residents have fond memories of spotting the famous physicist, lost in thought, walking to and from his office at the Institute for Advanced Study.
Celebrations and Commemorations
". . . especially when he has, through no will of his own, become a kind of legend in his own lifetime. All manner of fable is being attached to his personality, and there is no end to the number of ingeniously devised tales."
-Einstein describing himself in a 1954 letter to his lifelong friend Elizabeth, the Queen Mother of Belgium
Einstein's scientific achievements, coupled with his unpretentious attitude and concern for humanity, made him a beloved, world-renowned figure. Wherever he traveled he was mobbed by people hoping to catch a glimpse of or even touch the genius who had changed their perception of the universe. Einstein himself never understood the public's fascination with his every word and deed, saying once: "Why is it that nobody understands me and everybody likes me?"
Every year on March 14, Einstein would receive cards, letters, and telegrams with birthday wishes from throughout the world. Even on the centennial of his birth, in 1979, the world celebrated with newspaper and magazine articles, symposiums, publications, and commemorative stamps.
Einstein died on April 18, 1955 in Princeton Hospital; he was cremated and his ashes scattered in an undisclosed location. The worldwide fascination with this kind and gentle genius has not dissipated to this day.
". . . my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world."
-Einstein in a letter to Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, November 18, 1952
In the early 1930s Einstein recognized the threat that Hitler posed to Jews living in Germany and to himself in particular as a world-famous Jew. In 1932 Einstein left his country of birth never to return. Throughout the thirties Einstein was deluged with pleas for help from relatives and strangers desperate to flee fascism in Europe. Working against harsh immigration quotas imposed against Jews, Einstein wrote affidavits and enlisted the help of friends in assisting as many refugees as possible. By the end of the 1930s, Einstein had written so many affidavits that his signature on a document no longer carried any weight.
At the same time, Einstein was busy raising funds for organizations such as the United Jewish Appeal, and working toward securing a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which was realized in 1948 by the creation of the State of Israel. When Chaim Weizmann, the first President of Israel and an old friend of Einstein's, died in 1952 Einstein was offered the Presidency. He regretfully declined, writing: "I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel, and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it."
". . . I have become a kind of enfant terrible in my new homeland, due to my inability to keep silent and to swallow everything that happens there."
-Einstein in a 1954 letter to his lifelong friend Elizabeth, the Queen Mother of Belgium
Einstein was a lifelong pacifist dedicated to the establishment of a World Government, which he felt would allow nations to work together and abolish the need for war. He could not keep silent about the ills he saw in society; during the anti-communist "witch hunts" of the 1950s Einstein spoke out against the persecution of those who were accused of being "un-American," urging them to commit civil disobedience. He saw a parallel between the American political climate of the postwar period and the fascism of Europe in the thirties.
In answer to a request for advice from William Frauenglass, a Brooklyn high school teacher under investigation by the Senate Internal Security subcommittee, Einstein wrote a letter which was published in The New York Times on June 12, 1953. It read, in part: "Every intellectual who is called before one of the committees ought to refuse to testify, i.e., he must be prepared for jail and economic ruin, in short, for the sacrifice of his personal welfare in the interest of the cultural welfare of his country."
Einstein's image in the mass media evolved during and after his lifetime. Overwhelmingly positive views of Einstein as an intellectual hero prior to the Second World War gave way to tragic portrayals linking him to the development of the atom bomb in the years following the war. Though E=mc2 had no crucial role in the unleashing of atomic energy, Einstein was portrayed in popular culture as the sorrowful father of the atomic age, whose genius was used to tragic ends.
As this mythical connection between Einstein and the atomic bomb was gradually refuted, his name and face once again became the symbol of genius. His status as an icon evolved from intellectual hero to intellectual victim and back again. Today, Einstein is again a popular culture hero.
His name is synonymous with genius. His work revolutionized science. His home on Mercer Street is the most popular tourist attraction in town - even though it is a private residence and can only be viewed from the outside.
Princeton's most famous resident wasn't born here, but it could be said that by living here, this Nobel Prize laureate helped build Princeton's reputation as a place for research and scientific study.
Amusing stories abound about him. He supposedly traded help with homework for a supply of fudge. At times he didn't wear socks because he didn't like the feel of wool. The image of the absent-minded professor was born from his early days in Princeton, when, lost in thought as he walked around town, he literally became lost - and had to ask directions to Nassau Hall in his German-accented English to figure out his way home.
He didn't understand his popularity and he didn't seek to advance it, insisting, for example that his home not become a museum to his memory after he died. His opinions, however, were sought on topics as diverse as politics and pacifiism, civil liberties and harmony in the Middle East.
His popularity also led to strange requests from admirers and criticism from others. Once he was asked to donate his right shoe to an organization of tanners, manufacturers and merchants; at least three marriage proposals arrived by mail. He was the butt of anti-Semitic attacks on occasion. A letter writer once took him to task for his informal style of dress.
ęCopyright Typowriters Design 2003-2004