There's no one who doesn't know who Albert Einstein is. A name synonymous with genius, he won the Nobel Prize and developed the theory of relativity. But few people knew about his personal life. A collection of personal letters, which was exposed for the first time by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem earlier this week, reveals that the great lover of physics was also a great lover of women.
The collection of letters – 1,400 letters spanning over 3,500 pages - was kept from the public at the request of Margot Einstein, the scientist's step-daughter, who wanted to protect his privacy. Just before her death, on August 8th 1986, she agreed to bequeath the letters to the Einstein Archives at the Hebrew University, but asked that they not be published for twenty years.
The letters reveal a different Einstein: they contain almost no mention of the acclaimed scientific research and depict a warm and empathic person. Einstein wrote to his family frequently, telling of his experiences and making sure that his son, Eduard, who suffered from schizophrenia, was receiving the necessary medical treatment.
Einstein had two wives: Mileva, with whom he had two sons and from whom he divorced in 1919, and Elsa, his cousin, with whom he had an affair while married to Mileva. In 1923, Einstein fell in love with his friend's young niece and she became his secretary. After they parted, he wrote: "I must search in the stars for that which has been denied me on Earth." In addition to the secretary, Einstein had affairs with six other women and didn't try to hide this fact from his wife.
Archivists posit that Elsa had no choice and was forced to come to terms with her husband's philandering. In one of Einstein's letters to Elsa, he refers to a woman whom he calls Ms. M. "Ms. M definitely behaved according to Judeo-Christian ethics: a person must do what gives him pleasure and does not hurt others. Thus because she 1) came with me and 2) did not say a word to you about it, was this not impeccable behavior?"
To his step-daughter, Margot, he wrote: "I am writing to you because you are the most reasonable person and mother (Elsa) is by now completely crazy. It is true that M followed me to England and chased me in a manner out of control. But firstly, I could hardly have prevented this and, secondly, when I next see her, I will tell her that she must disappear at once…Of all the women, I am actually only attached to Ms. L, who is perfectly harmless and respectable. I don't care what people say about me, but for the sake of mother and Ms. M, it is preferable that people not gossip about it."
Einstein and Weizmann
The letters mention not only women, but also thoughts and ideas. In one letter, Einstein writes harshly about Chaim Weizmann, Israel's first president. Weizmann had published an announcement stating Einstein's intent to come teach at the Hebrew University when Einstein had not intended to do such a thing. "Weizmann is trying cunningly to turn me around. You would have been appalled to see how coldly I treated him. The university in Jerusalem will not be able to become an esteemed institution in the near future. I will no longer do anything to further this objective."
An additional story that is revealed in the letters is the final destination of his Noble Prize money from 1923. Up until now, it was thought that Einstein had given it to his first wife, but it turns out that he kept some of it for himself, transferred it to the United States, and then lost it as a result of the Great Depression in 1929. A year later he wrote to Elsa: "Thank God no one can take off my skin while I'm alive and make it into a card."
And what about the theory of relativity, which granted him eternal fame? In all of these letters, Einstein wrote only one line about it. In a 1921 letter to his wife, from Prague, he writes: I will soon weary of this theory of relativity. Even a thing such as this wanes, when you deal with it too much."