Letters cast fresh light on Einstein's fathering, philandering

Correspondence reveals he lost most of Nobel Prize money in stock market

July 10, 2006 03:17
4 minute read.
einstein 88

einstein 88. (photo credit: )


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New elements concerning Albert Einstein "the father and husband" and information about his marital infidelities emerge from never-before-seen correspondence released on Monday, but as expected, they shed little new light on the scientist or his work. "There is nothing specific which is revolutionarily new," said former Hebrew University president and physicist Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund. "The value of the Einstein correspondence is in the size, the scope, the details, and the mood - it is a supplement." The collection, once a closely guarded secret, was only made public Monday. The will of Einstein's stepdaughter, Margot, specified that the university be prohibited from releasing the correspondence until the 20th anniversary of her death - July 8, 2006. In the letters, Einstein identifies six different mistresses by initials and first names, including his own secretary. While previous correspondences have indicated that Einstein was quite the philanderer, these new correspondences reveal a never-before mentioned mistress, Mrs. M. According to Wolff, Mrs. M lived in Berlin and was friends with Einstein's own stepdaughter. According to Albert Einstein archivist Barbara Wolff, "Mrs. M." has since been identified and is really Ethel Michanowski. According to Dr. Roni Gross, head of the Einstein Archives, Einstein may have had more mistresses than collected correspondences have revealed. "We have pictures of women in lounge chairs with Einstein, so there may be more lovers that have just never been mentioned," said Gross. While Einstein partook in many love affairs, he was never discreet about them. "He openly talks about his love affairs in the letters to Elsa [his second wife] and Margot," said Wolff. In correspondence to Margot about Michanowski, written in German and translated into English for the display of the collection, he writes: "It is true that M. followed me to [England] and her chasing after me is getting out of control...Out of all the dames I am in fact attached only to Mrs. L," a reference to another one of his mistresses. In another section, he writes: "I don't care what people are saying about me, but for mother and Mrs. M., it is better that not every Tom, Dick and Harry gossip about it." While many other Einstein correspondences have been released in the past, Monday's revelation is unique in that it will be the last major collection ever to be revealed. "This is the last time that such a large body of materials will come to the public's attention," said Gutfreund. "We may find a document here or there, but nothing of this size." The correspondence spans almost 3,500 pages and is divided into letters from Einstein to his second wife and letters from the scientist's first wife and children to him. What little new information they provide can be found in the second group. "The letters shed no new light on his science, but they do shed, to some extent, a new, slightly modified view on Einstein the father and Einstein the husband," said Gutfreund. Whereas Einstein was previously characterized as having failed to fulfill his familial responsibilities, the new letters reveal a more empathetic and understanding family man. Einstein reveals time spent with his children and expresses great pride in how smart and grown-up they became. The letters sent from Einstein's first family to him are particularly interesting to historians. Although some were previously published, the responses from the family to Einstein were kept in the sealed correspondence. Now public, the family's responses provide greater insight into both Einstein as a family figure, and his motivations for writing them. "Only letters and their answers give us a complete and better image of Einstein the father," said Wolff. Historians also gained insight into strife that existed between Einstein and his first wife Mileva over his Nobel Prize money. "We knew about friction that existed, but today, we know he dealt with the money in a different way than he agreed to and a different way than we all expected according to previously known material," said Wolff. The correspondence reveals that Einstein did not deposit all of the prize money into a Swiss account. Instead, he invested much of the money in the American stock market and lost it when the market crashed. Despite this, Einstein continued to support Mileva and his sons monetarily. In accordance with Einstein's last will, his correspondences were donated to the archives at the Hebrew University. According to Gutfreund, the donation was "an expression of a lifelong connection to Hebrew University." As the proprietor of the Einstein collection, the Hebrew University requires that anyone who wishes to use Einstein's image or quotes for commercial purposes purchase a license from the university. The sale of such licenses earns the university about a million dollars a year. Einstein's connection with the university stemmed from his Zionist feelings, but that wasn't much mentioned in the letters. "Einstein's Jewish identity is a theme in his life that is amply covered. In the sealed materials, there are only scattered remarks to that effect," said Gutfreund. Overall, those working on the Einstein archives were pleased with the findings. "I didn't realize how rich the material was. There was nothing revolutionary, but it spans such a long period of his life that it provides a very rich resource for anyone interested in his personality, his friends, his environment, and everything that happened around him," said Gutfreund.

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