Einstein's desire for a lasting peace in the Holy Land revealed


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The Independent Online

Given that she had had a two-year affair with the married Albert Einstein when she was 23 and he was 44, and that she was a Jew desperate to escape an Austria overrun by the Nazis, what resounds down the years about the letter Betty Neumann sent to Einstein in America is its restraint and delicacy.

Writing to the already world famous scientist in German two months after Hitler's tanks had rolled into Vienna, Miss Neumann formally addresses her former lover – now installed at Princeton University – as "Highly Esteemed Herr Professor".

"Thinking about the time which was 15 years back, gives me confidence that you will maybe help me now," she writes. "I have lost my livelihood. My position as an X-ray assistant in a hospital, which I had for 10 years, has ended." She adds that both her parents are dead and "nobody can take care of me."

The plea from Ms Neumann sent on 16 May 1938 was answered. Einstein, who was already revolutionising physics with his theory of relativity by the time his affair with Ms Neumann had started, wrote an affidavit which saved her.

And thanks to a digitisation programme unveiled yesterday by Hebrew University, her handwritten letter will soon be available online. It will join 81,000 other items in the formidably rich Einstein archive – including his plan for a lasting Jewish-Arab peace.

From today, internet users across the world will be able to see the first batch of 2,500 digitised items. They range from the original 1925 manuscript version of his General Theory of Relativity to a postcard sent by Einstein to his ailing mother Pauline in 1919.

Physicists and historians of science will naturally be drawn to the thousands of documents relating to his theory. But interest will also be focused on the evidence that Einstein's support for a Jewish homeland was tempered a fervent desire for peace in the Holy Land.

"He was a Zionist but be careful how you use the word," Roni Grosz, curator of the Einstein Archive, said yesterday. "He had his own views on what Jews should and shouldn't do and about how they interact with their Arab neighbours."

As late as 1947 Einstein was doubtful about the idea of a state of Israel, though he supported it after its establishment the following year, and indeed on his deathbed was composing a broadcast for its seventh anniversary.

The full flavour of his thinking is conveyed in his correspondence during the British mandate with Azmi al-Nashashibi, the Arab editor of the Falastin newspaper, which had reported Einstein's theory while disparaging growing Jewish immigration.

Einstein responded in December 1929 by writing that he had long been convinced that the future must be built on "an intimate community of nations." He added: "I had therefore expected that the great Arab nation would more fully appreciate the Jewish need for restoring its national home in Judaism's old homeland.

"I am convinced that the loving interest which the whole of Jewry takes in the land of Palestine can be of benefit to the entire population of the country."