In His Own Words: New Einstein Manuscripts Revealed

Ahead of the famed physicist’s 140th birthday, the Crown-Goodman Family Foundation donated a newly acquired collection of Albert Einstein's 110 manuscript pages, most of which have not been displayed before.

Even 140 years after the Nobel Prize-winning physicist, Albert Einstein’s birth, his scientific discoveries still impact our lives- space travel, lasers, nuclear power, GPS, driverless cars and fiber optics, all trace back to Einstein’s theories.

The Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) unveiled Wednesday a newly acquired collection of Albert Einstein’s 110 manuscript pages, most of which have not been displayed before, and which shed light on the scientist and the man behind the science.

The yellowed pages of handwritten in German consist of several personal correspondences with his friend Michele Besso.

Besso of Jewish descent was a Swiss-Italian engineer baptized as Christian but still knew the Hebrew language. Einstein wrote in a letter from 1951  “You will certainly not go to hell, even if you have had yourself baptized,” Einstein wrote. “As a ‘Jewish saint’ must feel ashamed at the fact that I know next to nothing of it. But I prefer to feel ashamed rather than to learn it.”

In the same letter, Einstein tells Besso that he has “still not come closer” to fully comprehend the nature of light particles after nearly 50 years of research. One of signed Einstein letter to Besso sold at auction in 2017 for $68,000.

Einstein who had left Germany years earlier amid the rise of fascism wrote in a 1935 letter to his son Hans Albert who was living in Switzerland at the time. He expressed dismay that other European powers had not done more to curb Nazis’ military buildup.

“The German armament must be extremely dangerous; but the rest of Europe is now starting to finally take the thing serious, especially the English,” Einstein wrote. “If they would have come down hard a year and a half ago, it would have been better and easier.”

The collection was purchased by Crown-Goodman Family Foundation from a private collector doctor Gary Berger, from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and donated them to Hebrew University. These documents had belonged to Ernst Straus, Einstein’s one-time assistant and fellow mathematician.

They were sold by Straus’s family after his death in 1983 to a New York antique dealer. Eventually the documents made their way to the collection of

Einstein was one of the founding fathers of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (HU) and was a member of its board of directors. After his death in 1955, he left most of his archive — over 82,000 items, ranging from manuscripts to his music records — to the University.

The Archives’ Academic Director Professor Hanoch Gutfreund said, “We are proud to serve as the eternal home for Albert Einstein’s intellectual legacy, as was his wish”.

Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert Einstein Archive at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, called the documents “a rare find.” Though the contents of many of the documents were already known to researchers, “originals are a very, very special addition to a collection,” he said.

Einstein awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics in 1921 for his work on the photoelectric effect, Einstein is perhaps more famous for his General Theory of Relativity.

Written by Albert Einstein (Photo Erdon Bar Hama)

 

The new collection contains:

· 84 sheets, most of them mathematical derivations from 1944-48. Here, Einstein’s research notes give us a direct, unedited insight into the workings of one of the most creative minds in the history of science. While the scientific context of many of these calculations is not yet clear, an initial description was provided by Prof. Tilman Sauer at the University of Mainz.

· A handwritten, unpublished appendix to a scientific article on the Unified Theory that Einstein submitted to the Prussian Academy of Science in 1930. This article was one of many in Einstein’s attempts to unify the forces of nature into one, single theory and he devoted the last thirty years of his life to this effort. This appendix–Page 3—has never before been seen or studied and was thought lost until now.

· A 1935 letter from Einstein to his son Hans Albert who was living in Switzerland at the time. Einstein expresses concern about the deteriorating situation in Europe and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany: “I read with some apprehension that there is quite a movement in Switzerland, instigated by the German bandits. But I believe that even in Germany things are slowly starting to change. Let’s just hope we won’t have a Europe war first…the rest of Europe is now starting to finally take the thing seriously, especially the British. If they would have come down hard a year and a half ago, it would have been better and easier.”

· 4 letters from Einstein to his life-long friend and fellow scientist, Michele Besso. Three of the 1916 letters refer to Einstein’s monumental work, based on a “glorious idea”, on the absorption and emission of light by atoms. This idea later became the basis for laser technology. In the fourth letter, Einstein confesses that after 50 years of thinking about it, he still does not understand the quantum nature of light.

· The letters to Besso also contain Einstein’s witty and personal remarks about family matters and Jewish identity. In one, Einstein teases Besso for having converted to Christianity, “You will certainly not go to hell, even if you had yourself baptized.” Though Einstein is impressed that Besso is learning Hebrew and shared, “As a goy, you are not obliged to learn the language of our fathers, whilst I as a ‘Jewish saint’ must feel ashamed at the fact that I know next to nothing of it. But I prefer to feel ashamed than to learn it”.

 

 

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