Einstein and the Nazis

In his book “Quantum”, Manjit Kumar talks about Albert Einstein and the other scientists who came up with Quantum theory. While some of the book is on the science, he also writes a bit about their lives. This is what he says about Germany after the first World War:

In November (of 1923), one dollar was worth 4,210,500,000,000 marks, a glass of beer cost 150 billion marks and a loaf of bread 80 billion. With the country in danger of imploding, the situation was brought under control only with the help of American loans and a reduction in reparation payments….

Einstein’s international celebrity and his well-known anti-war stance made him an easy target for a campaign of hate. ‘Anti-Semitism is strong here and political reaction is violent,’ Einstein wrote to Ehrenfest in December 1919. Soon he began receiving threatening mail and on occasions suffered verbal abuse as he left his apartment or office. In February 1920, a group of students disrupted his lecture at the university, one of them shouting, “I’m going to cut the throat of that dirty Jew.”

When we read about this anti-Semitism, we should remember that Hitler didn’t get into power until 1933. Einstein quite sensibly had been against World War I. The minister of culture wrote to reassure him that Germany, “was, and will forever be, proud to count you, highly honored Herr Professor, among the finest ornaments of our science.” That’s also interesting – Germany was a country of different environments, and for instance some of my ancestors, who were Jewish, felt comfortable there. But the ‘wave of the future’ was Nazism. Einstein himself was treated like a celebrity by some Europeans: “Women fainted in his presence. Young girls mobbed him in Geneva (Switzerland).” But eventually, his books were burned in Germany.

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