AIP History Center Newsletter
Volume XXXVIII , No. 2, Fall 2006

 

Newly Opened Correspondence Illuminates
Einsteinís Personal Life

by David C. Cassidy, Hofstra University, with special thanks
to Diana Kormos Buchwald, Einstein Papers Project

The Albert Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem recently opened a large collection of Einsteinís personal correspondence from the period 1912 until his death in 1955. The collection consists of nearly 1,400 items. Among them are about 300 letters and cards written by Einstein, primarily to his second wife Elsa Einstein, and some 130 letters Einstein received from his closest family members. The collection had been in the possession of Einsteinís step-daughter, Margot Einstein, who deposited it with the Hebrew University of Jerusalem with the stipulation that it remain closed for twenty
years following her death, which occurred on July 8, 1986. The Archives released the materials to public viewing on July 10, 2006. On the same day Princeton University Press released volume 10 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, containing 148 items from the collection through December 1920, along with other newly available correspondence. Later items will appear in future volumes. ďThese lettersĒ, write the Einstein editors, ďprovide the reader with substantial new source material for the study of Einsteinís personal life and the relationships with his closest family members and friends.Ē

Among Einsteinís main correspondents in the newly released collection are his first wife, Mileva Einstein-Maric, from whom he was separated in 1914 and divorced in 1919; Einsteinís two sons with Einstein-Maric, Hans Albert and Eduard; Einsteinís second wife and first cousin, Elsa Einstein, whom he married in 1919; Elsaís two daughters from her previous marriage, Ilse and Margot; and Einsteinís sister, Maja, and her husband, Paul
Winteler. Ilse died in 1934, Elsa in 1936. Maja and Margot joined Einstein in Princeton during the 1930s. The collection also includes a large number of poems and aphorisms written by Eduard Einstein, correspondence among Einsteinís maternal grandparents, as well as items of administrative and financial correspondence from Einsteinís Berlin and Princeton years.

The newly released letters provide little direct insight into Einsteinís scientific work. However, he does write his thoughts on the course of his work and, while traveling, his impressions of people, audiences, and cultural situations in the places he visits. In one letter to Elsa in 1916, during a visit with Paul Ehrenfest in Leiden, he wrote how pleased he was with the reception accorded relativity theory in the Netherlands. In another letter in 1920, he wrote of his mounting distress over the anti-relativity movement in Berlin, and by 1921, after lecturing extensively to the general public, he admitted, ďSoon Iíll be fed up with the relativity. Even such a thing fades away when one is too involved with it ...Ē The new letters also show that, even during his most intense periods of work, he was often corresponding intensely with family members on personal matters.

The new correspondence reveals many aspects of Einsteinís private and public life: his complex relations with his first wife Mileva and his second wife Elsa, with other women in his life, and with his two sons, as well as his most personal thoughts on self-image and on his closest family members, friends, and colleagues. They show his engagement and at times deep passion for various political and social causes, such as pacifism and Jewish
nationalism, but also his financial concerns and protracted struggle with health issues and the illnesses, at times serious, of some of his closest family members. The correspondence follows Einstein from the earliest extant letters to Elsa in 1912, through the hardships
he and his two families experienced during World War I, the turmoil of the post-war period in Berlin, the relative stability of the late 1920s, the rise of Nazism and Einsteinís departure from Europe in 1933. The later part of the correspondence deals mostly
with providing for Einsteinís first wife and his younger son, who suffered from schizophrenia, in Zurich.

Further information may be found at the web sites of the Albert Einstein Archives: www.albert-einstein.org, and the Einstein Papers Project: www.einstein.caltech.edu.

 


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