Einstein on Race and Racism

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The Einsteins had planned to return home in the spring, but that was before January Within a few months, the Nazi regime made it clear that Einstein was still alive primarily because he was not in Germany. Others filled his mailbox with obscene and threatening letters. For several years in the mid s, public anti-Semitism subsided and the ultra-Nationalists lowered their profile as the German economy steadied with substantial economic aid from the US and England.

But towards the end of the decade, the economy faltered, and the far-right flexed its political and paramilitary muscles. And when the worldwide economic depression of brought rampant unemployment and inflation to Germany, it also brought the Nazis a large, disgruntled base of potential recruits. The impact of the economic depression and the success of Nazi propaganda brought a sudden surge of Nazi votes in the elections, increasing their Reichstag seats to That afternoon, several hundred members of the Nazi SA and SS private armies invaded the working-class district of Berlin-Wedding, blocked the ends of a stretch of road chanting anti-Semitic slogans and attacking anyone luckless enough to be out and about.


The Nazis beat up some thirty locals, including several old people and one pregnant woman, who was hospitalized in dire condition. The threats against Einstein increased as Hitler came closer to power. Officially, the Einsteins were departing for one more semester abroad and planned to return to Berlin in the spring. In America, Einstein was quickly vilified by the German state. Scientists, especially Jewish scientists, were a special target for the regime that preached Aryan supremacy.

One Nazi pedagogical leader put it plainly: It is not science that must be restricted, but rather the scientific investigators and teachers; only men who have pledged their entire personality to the nation, to the racial conception of the world will teach and carry on research at the German universities. Einstein was suddenly a refugee.

But the Einsteins did return to Europe in the spring and summer of , spending several months in the Belgian coastal town of Le Coq-sur-Mer for rest and reconsideration of future plans. Einstein was also wanted — but alive and thinking — by leading institutions of learning around the world. Several European universities, including Oxford, Paris, Madrid and Leiden, offered Einstein faculty positions, as did the newly-established — and well-funded — Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Snow, explains, the choice of where to settle was, to a large extent out of his hands:.

Belgium suited him. Unwillingly, he set off on his travels again, [and moved] to Princeton…. It was a kind of exile. There is no doubt that he, who had never recognized any place as home, sometimes longed for the sounds and smells of Europe. Nevertheless, it was in America that he reached his full wisdom and his full sadness. Before leaving Germany, Einstein was not only an outspoken critic of the Nazis, but he had begun to speak out against racism in America — the parallel to Nazi anti-Semitism and Aryan-Superman theory was hard to miss. In , W. We have just reached our 21 st birthday.

I am writing to ask if in the midst of your busy life you could find time to write us a word about the evil of race prejudice in the world. A short statement from you of to 1, words on this subject would help us greatly in our continuing fight for freedom. I should greatly appreciate word from you. Very sincerely yours,.

Du Bois.

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Please find enclosed a short contribution for your newspaper. Because of my excessive workload I could not send a longer explanation. With Distinguished respect,. Albert Einstein. A Note from the Editor [Dr. Du Bois]:. The author, Albert Einstein, is a Jew of German nationality.

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He was born in Wurttemburg in and educated in Switzerland. He received the Nobel Prize in and the Copley Medal in Einstein is a genius in higher physics and ranks with Copernicus, Newton and Kepler. His famous theory of Relativity, advanced first in , is revolutionizing our explanation of physical phenomenon and our conception of Motion, Time and Space.

But Professor Einstein is not a mere mathematical mind. He is a living being, sympathetic with all human advance. He is a brilliant advocate of disarmament and world Peace and he hates race prejudice because as a Jew he knows what it is. It seems to be a universal fact that minorities, especially when their Individuals are recognizable because of physical differences, are treated by majorities among whom they live as an inferior class.

The tragic part of such a fate, however, lies not only in the automatically realized disadvantage suffered by these minorities in economic and social relations, but also in the fact that those who meet such treatment themselves for the most part acquiesce in the prejudiced estimate because of the suggestive influence of the majority, and come to regard people like themselves as inferior.

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This second and more important aspect of the evil can be met through closer union and conscious educational enlightenment among the minority, and so emancipation of the soul of the minority can be attained. The determined effort of the American Negroes in this direction deserves every recognition and assistance.

Nearly twenty years later, another Einstein-Du Bois correspondence would bring even more momentous results, but in the fearful s, there would be no press coverage. For Einstein, the Scottsboro Defense was the first of several protests against racial injustice in the American legal system. For J. Einstein joined with Paul Robeson, W.

Du Bois and the Civil Rights Congress. Indeed, almost every civil-rights group Einstein endorsed after , including the Council on African Affairs cited earlier, had Robeson in the leadership. This is a slow and painstaking process in which all right-thinking people should take part. With the Red-scare, Congressional investigating committees like HUAC had red-baited virtually any southern group that called for integration, and driven many of them out of existence.

The Highlander Folk School, where Rosa Parks took part in interracial discussions during the summer before her famous arrest for refusing to move to the back of a Montgomery, Alabama bus, was one of the few organizations that managed to survive.

Another was the Southern Conference Educational Fund. Four years before Brown v. Board of Education , SCEF sponsored a rare integrated conference in the South albeit at a Black university to oppose racism in southern universities. If an individual commits an injustice he is harassed by his conscience. But nobody is apt to feel responsible for misdeeds of a community, in particular, if they are supported by old traditions.

The personal writings do not only reveal the musings of a man grappling with a jolt to his view of the world. Einstein was a German-born Jewish scientist who was targeted by the Nazis and became known as an advocate for human rights.

When Einstein set out on his journey, he was in his 40s, already renowned for his work on the photoelectric effect and on relativity , and developing a second reputation as a progressive public figure. The travel diaries, however, lay bare a different side of a remarkable mind.

All this occurs quietly and demurely. Even the children are spiritless and look obtuse. For the likes of us, the mere thought is unspeakably dreary. One has to love and admire this country. The simple economic cycle of life. While many may insist on dismissing the diary entries as merely reflecting the attitudes of the era, Mr. Rosenkranz told The Guardian, the xenophobia and prejudice they revealed had been far from universal.

There were other views out there, more tolerant views.