A rare handwritten, signed letter by Albert Einstein, one of the most influential physicists of all time, is up for auction at the Kedem Auction House in Jerusalem.
Written to a friend in 1936 who was considering a position in American academia, the letter provides a glimpse at the level of anti-Semitism in the US at the time, and the difficulties a Jewish immigrant with no connections might expect to face.
“A tremendous degree of anti-Semitism exists here, especially in academia (though also in industry and banking),” Einstein wrote to his friend, Austrian Jewish pianist Bruno Eisner. “Mind you, it never takes the form of brutal speech or action, but simmers all the more intensely under the surface. It is, so to speak, an omnipresent enemy, one that is impossible to see, and whose presence you only perceive.”
The letter was written when Einstein was living in Princeton, New Jersey, several years after the Nazi rise to power and his decision never to return to Germany. Eisner was already in New York, staying with another of Einstein's friends, the ophthalmologist Max Talmey. In the letter, Einstein described the experience of his own assistant as an example of someone who faced extreme anti-Semitism and was forced to leave the US to accept a position in Russia.
“You are unfortunately relying on a false assumption. I am very lonely here, and I am not in touch with anyone, least of all with any musicians. The assignment of positions is completely disorganized, so you find out about vacancies at any given location only through personal connections.”
Einstein concluded the letter with regards from his wife Elsa who was seriously (and terminally) ill at the time. "She suffers greatly, bedridden, trouble breathing, diabetes..." She passed away three months later.
Despite the rising tide of anti-Semitism that characterized those years – the spread of Nazism throughout Europe, anti-Jewish demagoguery, conspiracy theories associated with the New Deal in the shadow of the Great Depression – Eisner managed to find his niche in the American classical music scene. He nurtured a career as a concert pianist and professor of music, teaching at universities and music academies across the country, and died at age 94 in New York.
When the Nazis came to power in 1933, there was a move to gradually isolate Jews and remove them from positions of influence in German society. Among the earliest anti-Semitic edicts were laws preventing Jews from holding public office, which included university posts. This discrimination targeted Jewish physicists in particular and Einstein's theory of relativity was dismissed as "Jewish Physics."
Einstein was on a lecture tour outside Germany when Hitler rose to power, and seeing the situation in his homeland, decided to renounce his German citizenship. After a brief period he settled in the United States, where he was offered a position at Princeton University’s Institute for Advanced Study. Einstein remained at Princeton until his death on April 18,1955.
“This letter sheds light on a lesser-known aspect of Einstein's life in the United States,” said Meron Eren, Kedem Auction House CEO and co-founder. “At the time, anti-Semitism in the US was largely overshadowed by the Holocaust and the millions who died in Europe. This letter serves as another important reminder that liberal societies are not immune to this disease and that we must always stay vigilant against any form of racism.”