Tuesday, 11 July 2006

Einstein letters reveal a turmoil beyond science

July 11, 2006

By Matthew Kalman, Globe Correspondent

JERUSALEM -- Albert Einstein made bad financial investments, revealed details about his mistresses to his wives, and was plagued by doubts about his relationship with his two sons.

Those were among the intimate details of Einstein's life that emerged yesterday in a trove of more than 3,500 pages of letters, papers, postcards, and other documents unsealed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

They include notes and drawings to and from his children and his two wives, Mileva and Elsa. In one note to his stepdaughter written in 1928, Einstein drew a small cartoon of himself lying ill in bed, reading a book with a chamber pot at the ready.

Researchers say the newly available papers offer few insights into Einstein's science, but do shed light on the personal life and the character of the creator of the special theory of relativity.

Einstein bequeathed his personal papers to Hebrew University when he died in 1955. The letters released yesterday were an additional bequest added to the collection by his stepdaughter Margot Einstein on condition that they be sealed for 20 years after her death. She died in July 1986.

The letters reveal how Einstein lost most of his Nobel Prize money in bad bond investments on Wall Street, and provide details of how he was showered with affection and gifts by his many mistresses.

``It added colors to the image we had of Einstein before," said Barbara Wolff, an archivist at the Albert Einstein Archives at Hebrew University who has read and indexed the newly released material. ``Now we have a high-resolution picture."

The material unsealed in the archives includes documents from 1912 to 1955. A handful of the items were available for view at a press conference yesterday at Hebrew University announcing the collection. Some will be included in the 10th volume of the Einstein Archive, covering Einstein's correspondence from May to December 1920. The series is published by Princeton University Press and edited by the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology.

Einstein achieved world fame in 1905 after publishing his special theory of relativity while he was living in Bern, Switzerland. He settled in Berlin in 1914 but traveled extensively, lecturing and working in many places including three stints as a scholar in residence at Oxford University. Threatened by the Nazis, who put a bounty on his head, he left Berlin for good in 1933 and settled in Princeton, N.J., from where he continued to correspond with his sons and former wife in Switzerland.

He became involved with Elsa, a cousin, in 1912 when he was still married to his first wife Mileva, a fellow scientist with whom he had two boys, Hans Albert and Eduard. Before he and Mileva married, they had a daughter, Lieserl, who was given up for adoption.

In 1919, Einstein divorced Mileva and married Elsa, but within four years he was in love with Bette Neumann, his secretary who was also the young niece of one of his friends. Many more liaisons followed.

The letters reveal that a beautiful Berlin socialite named Ethel Michanowski followed him to Oxford, only to discover that he was involved with a third woman.

According to excerpts of letters made available to reporters, Einstein discussed his extra-marital affairs openly with his family.

``It is true that M. followed me and her chasing after me is getting out of control," wrote Einstein to his stepdaughter in May 1931 of Michanowski's infatuation. ``I will tell her that she should vanish immediately. . . . Out of all the dames, I am in fact attached only to Mrs L. who is absolutely harmless and decent, and even with this there is no danger to the divine world order."

``I don't care what people are saying about me, but for mother and Mrs M. it is better that not every Tom, Dick and Harry gossip about it," he wrote.

``Mrs L." was Margarete Lenbach, another wealthy woman who used to send a chauffeur-driven car to collect Einstein for their late-night trysts.

But Einstein valued Michanowski's discretion, as he wrote to his second wife Elsa in 1931.

``Mrs. M. definitely acted according to the best Christian-Jewish ethics: 1) one should do what one enjoys and what won't harm anyone else; and 2) one should refrain from doing things one does not take delight in and which annoy another person. Because of 1) she came with me, and because of 2) she didn't tell you a word. Isn't that irreproachable?"

Einstein's distance from his two sons after the divorce from Mileva clearly troubled him. He wrote how much he enjoyed taking the boys on holiday but at times expressed despair over his younger son, Eduard, who suffered from schizophrenia. On more than one occasion he suggested it would have been better if Eduard had never been born.

But things were troubled even before the split with Mileva, not least because of Einstein's womanizing. In June 1915, Einstein went on holiday with Elsa after his older son, Hans Albert, curtly rejected an invitation to join him.

``Dear Papa, You should contact Mama about such things, because I'm not the only one to decide here. But if you're so unfriendly to her, I don't want to go with you either," wrote the boy, then just 11 years old.

The divorce settlement with Mileva contained a unique clause in which Einstein agreed that if he were to win the Nobel Prize he would deposit the money in a Swiss bank account in Mileva's name, and she could use the interest to finance the upbringing of the children. Einstein indeed won the prize for physics in 1921, but failed to fulfill this promise, and biographies have said that Mileva always felt betrayed.

The newly released papers reveal that he invested three-quarters of the money, about $24,000, in long-term bonds via the Ladenburg and Thalmann Bank in New York. Mileva was supposed to receive the interest. But the value of the bonds was wiped out in the Depression of the 1930s and Mileva's income dried up.

On June 12, 1932, Mileva asked her former husband for more money to help pay the mortgage on properties she had bought. ``Not so much is left for us to live on, especially since our income in any case has been reduced because of the loss from the papers in America," she wrote.

But Professor Hanoch Gutfreund, who is responsible for the Einstein bequest at Hebrew University, said Einstein made amends: ``Over the course of his life he sent Mileva and the boys regular sums of cash, much more than if he had only given them his Nobel Prize award."

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