“Early in April 1933, the German government passed a law declaring that Jews (defined as anyone with a Jewish grandparent) could not hold an official position, including at the Academy or at the universities. Among those forced to flee were fourteen Nobel laureates and twenty-six of the sixty professors of theoretical physics in the country. Fittingly, such refugees from fascism who left Germany or the other countries it came to dominate — Einstein, Edward Teller, Victor Weisskopf, Hans Bethe, Lise Meitner, Niels Bohr, Enrico Fermi, Otto Stern, Eugene Wigner, Leó Szilárd, and others — helped to assure that the Allies rather than the Nazis first developed the atom bomb.
Planck tried to temper the anti-Jewish policies, even to the extent of appealing to Hitler personally. ‘Our national policies will not be revoked or modified, even for scientists,’ Hitler thundered back. ‘If the dismissal of Jewish scientists means the annihilation of contemporary German science, then we shall do without science for a few years!’
Among those fleeing the Nazi purge was Max Born, who with his tart-tongued wife, Hedwig, ended up in England. ‘I have never had a particularly favorable opinion of the Germans,’ Einstein wrote when he received the news. ‘But I must confess that the degree of their brutality and cowardice came as something of a surprise.’ Born took it all rather well, and he developed, like Einstein, a deeper appreciation for his heritage.
The Germans were all a bad breed, Einstein insisted, ‘except a few fine personalities (Planck 60% noble, and Laue 100%).’ Now, in this time of adversity, they could at least take comfort that they were thrown together with their true kinsmen. ‘For me the most beautiful thing is to be in contact with a few fine Jews — a few millennia of a civilized past do mean something after all.’
Having found himself deposited in Belgium… [Einstein] rented a house on the dunes of Le Coq sur Mer, a resort near Ostend, where he could contemplate, and Mayer could calculate, the universe and its waves in peace…
Peace, however, was elusive. Even by the sea he could not completely escape the threats of the Nazis. The newspapers reported that his name was on a list of assassination targets, and one rumor had it that there was a $5,000 bounty on his head. Upon hearing this, Einstein touched that head and cheerfully proclaimed, ‘I didn’t know it was worth that much!'”
From Walter Isaacson’s biography Einstein: His Life and Universe.
Today marks the 69th anniversary of Hitler’s suicide and the Allies’ final push on Berlin. In his short biography of the Führer, A.N. Wilson establishes the bogus philosophical underpinnings of the Final Solution, reflecting on the ways in which these deranged justifications wound up backfiring in unexpected ways:
[Hitler] often discoursed upon… the fact that ‘the Jew’ was always on the look-out to destroy ‘the natural order’ by ‘sleight of hand’: ‘The Jew introduced Christianity into the ancient world — in order to ruin it — re-opened the same breach in modern times — this time taking as his pretext the social question. It’s the same sleight of hand as before. Just as Saul was changed into St. Paul, Mordechai became Karl Marx…’ He had decided that ‘the people that is rid of the Jews returns spontaneously to the natural order.’
Already, by the middle of the war, Germans were beginning to recognize what it felt like to be on the way towards achieving natural order. For one thing, they had toothache, since most of the dentists in Germany had been deported or gone into exile. For another, they had very few nuclear physicists left, and those who had gone were helping the Americans pioneer nuclear weaponry. The fortunate universities of Britain and America now had their Albert Einstein, their Ernst Gombrich, their Eduard Fraenkel to adorn their faculties, thanks to the German Leader’s belief that such individuals were undermining the natural order.
More on Einstein:
- Young Albert breaks up with his first girlfriend
- Einstein expounds his theory that God doesn’t play dice
- Einstein, Orwell, and Steinbeck denounce the evils of militarism
(Below: Einstein with some other unnaturals)