Einstein, Albert

(1879–1955)
   German physicist, Nobel laureate 1921. The most famous scientist in the modern world did not look the part. He was a small, mild man with bushy hair, who usually dressed in an old polo-necked sweater, loved to play the violin, and was deeply moved by human suffering. Einstein was born in Ulm, Germany, educated in Munich and graduated from the Zurich Polytechnic Institute. Except for his absorption in mathematics and physics from childhood, he showed little scholastic aptitude. After his degree he became a Swiss citizen, earned a living as a minor official in the Berne patent office and quietly pursued his research.
   In 1905, when he was twenty-six, he leapt from total obscurity to international scientific renown with three brilliant papers. One concerned the Brownian motion, the second was the special theory of relativity and the third the photo- electric effect of light. It was for his work in the last-named field and its relevance to quantum mechanics, that he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. But he was best known for the theory of relativity, which revolutionized the concepts of time, space and the universe accepted by scientists from the time of Newton, two centuries earlier. In 1916, as a professor at the Royal Prussian Academy in Berlin, he published further material on relativity, revolving round the famous equation E=mc2 concerning the relations between energy, mass and velocity. Three years later there were world headlines when the observations of a solar eclipse bore out Einstein’s calculations of the extent to which stellar light-rays were deflected by the sun’s magnetic field. Einstein was lecturing at the California Institute of Technology when Hitler came to power in Germany in 1933. He resigned his post in Berlin and remained in the United States, where he accepted a professorship at the Institute of Advanced Studies in Princeton, New Jersey. He acquired American citizenship. Just before the outbreak of World War II, American scientists learned that in Nazi Germany progress was being made with nuclear fission, and that there was a danger of the Germans developing an atom bomb. Einstein addressed a letter to President Roosevelt, drawing attention to this alarming possibility, and urging that the United States should push forward with its own nuclear research. This initiated consultations that led to the vast Manhattan Project and eventually to the atom bombs dropped on Japan in 1945 in order to force a Japanese surrender. Einstein was deeply troubled by his own role in this chapter. He later became chairman of an international committee of distinguished nuclear scientists that pressed for a total ban on nuclear weapons. In general, he was horrified that scientific advances should be exploited by mankind for destructive purposes, and used the simile of a sharp razor being given as a toy to a three-year-old child. Although not an observant Jew, Einstein was identified with the Jewish people, and keenly sensitive to their plight. While teaching in Prague and later in Berlin, he became interested in the Zionist movement, and specifically in the plans to establish a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In 1921 when Dr WEIZMANN journeyed to the United States to launch the Keren Hayesod (Palestine Foundation Fund), he persuaded Einstein to accompany him. While attracted to the idea of a Jewish national home, particularly after the advent of Hitler, he claimed that he was not a nationalist, and did not support the political aim of statehood. This was the position he took in giving evidence before the Anglo- American Committee of Inquiry in 1946. Nevertheless when Israel came to birth in 1948, Einstein hailed the event with enthusiasm and gave generously of his time for fund-raising.
   In 1952 Dr Weizmann, the first president of Israel, died. Prime Minister BEN-GURION approached Einstein about succeeding Weizmann as he was the greatest living Jew. Einstein declined, pleading that he was ‘deeply touched by the offer but unsuitable for the position’. At the time of his death, he was working on notes for a speech on the occasion of the seventh anniversary of Israel’s independence. Among his publications on general topics were About Zionism (1930), a collection of speeches and letters ; The Arabs and Palestine (1944); Out of My Later Years (1950); Ideas and Opinions by Albert Einstein (1954).

Who’s Who in Jewish History after the period of the Old Testament. . 2012.

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