Even Einstein couldn't think of a peace plan

An archive of Einstein's letters reveal his thoughts on a problem he couldn't solve: how Arabs and Jews can live together. From Jerusalem, Donald Macintyre reports

Jerusalem

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, by now in her mid-thirties, 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 says that "maybe it will be known" to the Nobel laureate that both her parents are dead and that "nobody can take care of me." She adds: "In Europe all states are closed to immigrants so I must think of America."

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 during his second marriage, wrote an affidavit which saved her.

And thanks to a digitisation programme unveiled yesterday by Hebrew University, of which the great theoretical physicist was a founder and lifelong supporter, her handwritten letter, in all its emotional immediacy, 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 see some of 2,500 digitised items. They range from the original 1925 manuscript version of his completed General Theory of Relativity to a postcard sent by Einstein to his ailing mother Pauline on 27 September 1919.

Written just after he had heard that astronomers observing the previous May's solar eclipse in West Africa had seen "star displacements at the sun's edge" thus reinforcing a key prediction in his developing theory, it says "Dear Mother, Good news today... N A Lorenz has telegraphed me that the British expeditions have definitely confirmed the deflection of light by the Sun. Unfortunately Maja has written me that you're not only in a lot of pain but that you also have gloomy thoughts. How I would like to keep you company again so you're not left to ugly brooding."

The digitisation project is funded by the UK-based Polonsky foundation and thanks to co-operation with the Princeton University Press and the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology, some of the documents will also be transcribed and translated.

Physicists and historians will naturally be drawn to the thousands of documents relating to the general theory. But interest will also be focused on the clear evidence that Einstein's support for a Jewish homeland was tempered a fervent and lifelong desire for peace with Arabs 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. But he refused the invitation to become its first President on the grounds that while he would be free as a private citizen to disagree with any future policy, as President he would not.

The full flavour of his thinking is conveyed in his correspondence during the British mandate with Azmi al- Nashashibi, the Arab editor of the newspaper Falastin, 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... I think the two great Semitic peoples that have made each in its own way lasting contributions to the civilization of the modern Western world can have a great future in common and that instead of facing each other with unfruitful hostility and mutual distrust they should... seek for the possibility for sympathetic co-operation."

By 1930, Einstein was on warm enough terms with the Palestinian editor to share with Falastin's readers his chosen peace process – one which firmly excluded politicians. Instead he envisaged a council of two four-strong teams, Jewish and Arab, working in secret, each of a "physician elected by the medical body; a jurist elected by the lawyers; a worker representative elected by the unions; and one clerical man elected by the ecclesiastical body". Each would undertake not to act out of sectional or national interest but "to take into account... according to their knowledge and conscience the prosperity of the whole inhabitants of the Land."

When three on each side agreed on a resolution they could make it public. Saying that "aggressive nationalism must be subdued," he asserts that the council would gradually "lead to a state in which differences will gradually be eliminated and common representation of the interests of the country will be upheld". Einstein summed up his vision of a future Palestine "only as the scene of peaceful co-operation between the two peoples whose land it is".

Professor Hanoch Gutfreund, an eminent theoretical physicist and academic head of the archive, described the proposal as "naive", but later added: "It's great, it's romantic, it's beautiful and maybe one day if nothing else works this is the way to go about it."

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Gregg Wallace in Summer's Supermarket Secrets
tv All of this year's 15 contestants have now been named
Sport
The giant banner displayed by Legia Warsaw supporters last night
football Polish side was ejected from Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Could we see Iain back in the Bake Off tent next week?
tv Contestant teased Newsnight viewers on potential reappearance
News
i100(and it's got nothing to do with the Great British Bake Off)
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn evocation of the conflict through the eyes of those who lived through it
Voices
The Ukip leader has consistently refused to be drawn on where he would mount an attempt to secure a parliamentary seat
voicesNigel Farage: Those who predicted we would lose momentum heading into the 2015 election are going to have to think again
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne made her acting debut in Anna Karenina in 2012
film Cara Delevingne 'in talks' to star in Zoolander sequel
News
i100
Sport
Mario Balotelli pictured in his Liverpool shirt for the first time
football
Life and Style
tech
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Java Developer - 1 year contract

£350 - £400 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client based in Cent...

Junior Analyst - Graduate - 6 Month fixed term contract

£17000 - £20000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

SAS Business Analyst - Credit Risk - Retail Banking

£450 - £500 per day: Orgtel: SAS Business Analyst, London, Banking, Credit Ris...

Project Manager - Pensions

£32000 - £38000 Per Annum Bonus, Life Insurance + Other Benefits: Clearwater P...

Day In a Page

Ukraine crisis: The phoney war is over as Russian troops and armour pour across the border

The phoney war is over

Russian troops and armour pour into Ukraine
Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

Potatoes could be off the menu as crop pests threaten UK

The world’s entire food system is under attack - and Britain is most at risk, according to a new study
Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Gangnam smile: why the Chinese are flocking to South Korea to buy a new face

Seoul's plastic surgery industry is booming thanks to the popularity of the K-Pop look
From Mozart to Orson Welles: Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

Creative geniuses who peaked too soon

After the death of Sandy Wilson, 90, who wrote his only hit musical in his twenties, John Walsh wonders what it's like to peak too soon and go on to live a life more ordinary
Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Caught in the crossfire of a cyber Cold War

Fears are mounting that Vladimir Putin has instructed hackers to target banks like JP Morgan
Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years

Salomé: A head for seduction

Salomé's feminine wiles have inspired writers, painters and musicians for 2,000 years. Now audiences can meet the Biblical femme fatale in two new stage and screen projects
From Bram Stoker to Stanley Kubrick, the British Library's latest exhibition celebrates all things Gothic

British Library celebrates all things Gothic

Forthcoming exhibition Terror and Wonder: The Gothic Imagination will be the UK's largest ever celebration of Gothic literature
The Hard Rock Café's owners are embroiled in a bitter legal dispute - but is the restaurant chain worth fighting for?

Is the Hard Rock Café worth fighting for?

The restaurant chain's owners are currently embroiled in a bitter legal dispute
Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival

In search of Caribbean soul food

Caribbean cuisine is becoming increasingly popular in the UK ... and there's more to it than jerk chicken at carnival
11 best face powders

11 best face powders

Sweep away shiny skin with our pick of the best pressed and loose powder bases
England vs Norway: Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Roy Hodgson's hands tied by exploding top flight

Lack of Englishmen at leading Premier League clubs leaves manager hamstrung
Angel Di Maria and Cristiano Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

Di Maria and Ronaldo: A tale of two Manchester United No 7s

They both inherited the iconic shirt at Old Trafford, but the £59.7m new boy is joining a club in a very different state
Israel-Gaza conflict: No victory for Israel despite weeks of death and devastation

Robert Fisk: No victory for Israel despite weeks of devastation

Palestinians have won: they are still in Gaza, and Hamas is still there
Mary Beard writes character reference for Twitter troll who called her a 'slut'

Unlikely friends: Mary Beard and the troll who called her a ‘filthy old slut’

The Cambridge University classicist even wrote the student a character reference
America’s new apartheid: Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone

America’s new apartheid

Prosperous white districts are choosing to break away from black cities and go it alone