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
Sport
Mourinho lost his temper as well as the match
sportLiverpool handed title boost as Sunderland smash manager’s 77-game home league run
Voices
Sweet tweet: Victoria Beckham’s selfie, taken on her 40th birthday on Thursday
voices... and her career-long attack on the absurd criteria by which we define our 'betters', by Ellen E Jones
Arts & Entertainment
Billie Jean King, who won the women’s Wimbledon title in 1967, when the first colour pictures were broadcast
tv
News
Snow has no plans to step back or reduce his workload
mediaIt's 25 years since Jon Snow first presented Channel 4 News, and his drive shows no sign of diminishing
VIDEO
Life & Style
food + drinkWhat’s not to like?
Voices
Clock off: France has had a 35‑hour working week since 1999
voicesThere's no truth to a law banning work emails after 6pm, but that didn’t stop media hysteria
Arts & Entertainment
Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones now
tvMajor roles that grow with their child actors are helping them to steal the show on TV
Life & Style
Lana Del Rey, Alexa Chung and Cara Delevingne each carry their signature bag
fashionMulberry's decision to go for the super-rich backfired dramatically
Arts & Entertainment
Kingdom Tower
architecture
Life & Style
Sampling wine in Turin
food + drink...and abstaining may be worse than drinking too much, says scientist
Arts & Entertainment
Game of Thrones writer George R.R. Martin has been working on the novels since the mid-Nineties
books
News
Easter a dangerous time for dogs
these are the new ones. Old ones are below them... news
News
Brand said he
people
Voices
Actor Zac Efron
voicesTopless men? It's as bad as Page 3, says Howard Jacobson
Sport
Roger Federer celebrates his victory over Novak Djokovic in the Monte Carlo Masters
sport
Arts & Entertainment
The monster rears its head as it roars into the sky
film
Voices
For the Love of God (2007) The diamond-encrusted skull that divided the art world failed to sell for
its $100m asking price. It was eventually bought by a consortium
which included the artist himself.
voicesYou can shove it, Mr Webb – I'll be having fun until the day I die, says Janet Street-Porter
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 iPad app?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Apprentice IT Technician

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is a company that specializ...

1st Line Technical Service Desk Analyst IT Apprentice

£153.75 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company is an innovative outsourcin...

1st Line Helpdesk Engineer Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: This company has been providing on site ...

Sales Associate Apprentice

£150.00 per week: QA Apprenticeships: We've been supplying best of breed peopl...

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit