Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein was born of Jewish parents in Ulm, Germany, in 1879. He was educated at Munich, Aarau and Zurich. Disapproving of German militarism he took Swiss nationality in 1901 and the following year was appointed examiner at the Swiss Patent Office. While in this post he began publishing original papers on the theoretical aspects of problems in physics.

Influenced by quantum theory developed by Max Planck in Berlin, Einstein explained the photoelectric law that governs the production of electricity from light-sensitive metals.

In 1905 Einstein published his special theory of relativity. Einstein argued that the laws of nature are the same for all observers in unaccelerated motion, and the speed of light is independent in the motion of its source. Einstein postulated that the time interval between two events was longer for an observer in whose frame of reference the events occur in different places than for the observer for whom they occur at the same place.

Einstein took his PhD at Zurich and in 1909 became a lecturer in theoretical physics at the university. He also taught at Prague (1911-12) before Max Planck invited him to become director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Physical Institute in Berlin in 1914.

In 1915 Einstein published his general theory of relativity where he argued that the properties of space-time were to be conceived as modified locally by the presence of a body with mass. The theory of relativity revolutionized our understanding of matter, space, and time.

Einstein achieved world recognition for his general theory of relativity and won the Nobel prize for physics in 1921. As a Jew, Einstein suffered a great deal of prejudice in Germany and after being involved in a memorial service for the assassinated German politician, Walther Rathenau, he was warned that he was likely to be murdered by the Freikorps.

Einstein became increasingly interested in politics and he toured Europe making speeches on peace and disarmament. Now a pacifist, he told his audiences that: "my pacifism is an instinctive feeling, a feeling that possesses me because the murder of men is disgusting." In 1929 he upset right-wing forces in Weimar Germany by stating: "I would unconditionally refuse all war service, direct or indirect regardless of how I might feel about the causes of any particular war."

In 1930 he made a speech on education and socialism: "This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals."

When Adolf Hitler came to power in 1933 Einstein was in California. His house was immediately attacked by the Sturm Abteilung (SA). After being told what had happened Einstein decided not to return home. Instead he toured Europe making speeches explaining what was taking place in Nazi Germany.

In 1934 Einstein emigrated to the United States where he became a professor of mathematics at Princeton. He was no longer a pacifist and argued that democratic nations needed to rearm in order to defend itself against the aggressive foreign policy of Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.

Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein

In 1939 Einstein warned President Franklin D. Roosevelt that German scientists were in a position to develop an atomic bomb. This encouraged Roosevelt to establish the Manhattan Project.

After the war he urged control of atomic weapons and was one of the first people in the United States to protest about McCarthyism and the activities of the House of Un-American Activities Committee. Albert Einstein, who spent his final years trying to establish a merger between between quantum theory and his general theory of relativity, died in 1955.

Primary Sources

(1) Albert Einstein, speech at a meeting of pacifists in Germany in 1922.

First, we might ask ourselves in what sense the problems of international affairs require today an approach quite different from that of the past - not just the recent past, but the past half-century. To me, the answer is quite simple: due to technological developments, the distances throughout the world have shrunk to one tenth of their former size. The production of commodities in the world has become a mosaic composed of pieces from all over the globe. It is essential and altogether natural that the increased economic interdependence of the world's territories, which participate in mankind's production, be complemented by an appropriate political organization.

I believe the condition in which the world finds itself today makes it not only a matter of idealism but one of dire necessity to create unity and intellectual co-operation among nations. Those of us who are alive to these needs must stop thinking in terms of 'What should be done for our country?' Rather, we should ask: 'What must our community do to lay the groundwork for a larger world community?' For without that greater community no single country will long endure.

(2) Albert Einstein, was in Germany in 1922 when the Jewish politician Walther Rathenau was assassinated. He wrote a letter to Max Planck describing his fears about his own safety.

A number of people who deserve to be taken seriously have independently warned me not to stay in Berlin for the time being and, especially, to avoid all public appearances in Germany. I am said to be among those whom the nationalists have marked for assassination. Of course, I have no proof, but in the prevailing situation it seems quite plausible.

The trouble is that the newspapers have mentioned my name too often, this mobilizing the rabble against me. I have no alternative but to be patient - and to leave the city. I do urge you to get as little upset over the incident as I myself.

(3) Eugene Wigner first met Albert Einstein in 1925. He wrote about this meeting in a book published in 1979.

The personal characteristic of Einstein that is most vividly in my mind and that I like to recall most is his feeling of equality with his colleagues, his appreciation and in fact reciprocation of their friendship. My love and early admiration of physics (I studied chemical engineering) owes very much to the seminar he organized in the early twenties in Berlin on statistical mechanics. Many of the participants at the seminar, including myself, were encouraged to visit him at his home, to have personal conversations with him. We discussed, at such occasions, not only statistical mechanics, not only physics, but also personal problems, and the problems of society. His deep insights had a lasting effect on most of us, but the exchange of opinions was on an equal basis and he responded with interest to the remarks which his visitors made. In somewhat later years the subject of such conversations often turned toward politics, and his condemnation of all dictatorships, particularly Hitler's, had a great deal of influence on his friends and students. But even as far as the USSR is concerned, he wrote, when he was asked to sign a petition: 'Because of the glorification of Soviet Russia, which it includes, I cannot bring myself to sign it.'

It became more difficult for him to maintain a similarly cordial relation with his colleagues, older and younger, after moving to Princeton. Though he could speak English, he never felt at home with it. But his relations with numerous collaborators in Princeton were always cordial and, even though they were not only less widely recognized, but also considerably younger than he was, he never talked down to them, and treated them as equals. He loved to take walks, often with friends like myself, with whom the conversation was in German.

(4) Albert Einstein, speech at the Sorbonne, Paris (December, 1929)

If my theory of relativity is proven correct, Germany will claim me as a German and France will declare that I am a citizen of the world. Should my theory prove untrue, France will say that I am a German and Germany will declare that I am a Jew.

(5) Albert Einstein, interview given in the United States in 1930.

It may not be possible in one generation to eradicate the combative instinct. It is not even desirable to eradicate it entirely. Men should continue to fight, but they should fight for things worth while, not for imaginary geographical lines, racial prejudices and private greed draped in the colours of patriotism. Their arms should be weapons of the spirit, not shrapnel and tanks.

We must be prepared to make the same heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war. There is no task that is more important or closer to my heart. Nothing that I can do or say will change the structure of the universe. But maybe, by raising my voice, I can help the greatest of all causes - good will among men and peace on earth.

(6) Albert Einstein, speech on education and socialism in 1930.

This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career. I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented toward social goals.

In such an economy, the means of production are owned by society itself and are utilized in a planned fashion. A planned economy, which adjusts production to the needs of the community, would distribute the work to be done among all those able to work and would guarantee a livelihood to every man, woman, and child. The education of the individual, in addition to promoting his own innate abilities, would attempt to develop in him a sense of responsibility for his fellowmen in place of the glorification of power and success in our present society. Nevertheless, it is necessary to remember that a planned economy is not yet socialism.

(7) Albert Einstein's outspoken pacifism made him an unpopular figure with right-wing forces in Weimar Germany.

I would unconditionally refuse all war service, direct or indirect regardless of how I might feel about the causes of any particular war.

(8) In the summer of 1933 the Royal Prussian Academy began expelling members who were Jews. Einstein immediately wrote to resign from the organization. The academy responded by publishing a public statement about Einstein.

We have no reason to regret Einstein's resignation. The Academy is aghast at his agitational activities abroad. Its members have always felt in themselves a profound loyalty to the Prussian state. Even though they have kept apart from all party politics, yet they have always emphasized their loyalty to the national idea.

(9) Albert Einstein, The World as I See It (1935)

That a man can take pleasure in marching in formation to the strains of a band is enough to make me despise him. He has only been given his big brain by mistake; a backbone was all he needed. The plague-spot of civilization ought to be abolished with all possible speed. Heroism by order, senseless violence and all the pestilent nonsense that goes by the name of patriotism - how I hate them!

(10) Albert Einstein, letter to the American League (1937)

It must be said that, of late, pacifists have harmed rather than helped the cause of democracy. This is especially obvious in England, where the pacifist influence has dangerously delayed the rearmament which has become necessary because of the military preparations in Fascist countries.

(11) On 2nd August, 1939, Albert Einstein and two other Jewish scientists, Leo Szilard and Eugene Wigner, who had fled Nazi persecution in Europe, wrote a joint letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt, about the developments that had been taking place in nuclear physics.

In the course of the last four months it has been made probable - through the work of Joliot in France as well as Fermi and Szilard in America - that it may become possible to set up a nuclear chain reaction in a large mass of uranium, by which vast amounts of power and large quantities of new radium-like elements would be generated. Now it appears almost certain that this could be achieved in the immediate future.

This new phenomenon would also lead to the construction of bombs, and it is conceivable - though much less certain - that extremely powerful bombs of a new type may thus be constructed. A single bomb of this type, carried by boat or exploded in a port, might well destroy the whole port together with some of the surrounding territory. However, such bombs might well prove to be too heavy for transportation by air.

(12) Albert Einstein, speech in New York in December 1945.

Physicists find themselves in a position not unlike that of Alfred Nobel. Alfred Nobel invented an explosive more powerful than any then known-an exceedingly effective means of destruction. To atone for this 'accomplishment' and to relieve his conscience, he instituted his awards for the promotion of peace. Today, the physicists who participated in producing the most formidable weapon of all time are harassed by a similar feeling of responsibility, not to say guilt. As scientists, we must never cease to warn against the danger created by these weapons; we dare not slacken in our efforts to make the peoples of the world, and especially their governments, aware of the unspeakable disaster they are certain to provoke unless they change their attitude toward one another and recognize their responsibility in shaping a safe future. We helped create this new weapon in order to prevent the enemies of mankind from achieving it first; given the mentality of the Nazis, this could have brought about untold destruction as well as the enslavement of the peoples of the world. This weapon was delivered into the hands of the American and the British nations in their roles as trustees of all mankind, and as fighters for peace and liberty; but so far we have no guarantee of peace nor of any of the freedoms promised by the Atlantic Charter. The war is won, but the peace is not.