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Einstein is glad that “the woman” (his estranged wife) is feeling better, and reports that he is living “peacefully and contentedly in my quiet cell” in Berlin, “as if people had all gone into hibernation; because whatever is active does not suggest human feeling
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Besso, who is in Berne right now, informs me that my wife is feeling a bit better… In any case, I am glad that the woman is receiving the best care possible. Aside from this worry, I am living peacefully and contentedly in my quiet cell, into which no newspapers penetrate. I have the feeling as if people had all gone into hibernation; because whatever is active does not suggest human feeling.

ALBERT EINSTEIN. Autograph Note Signed, to Heinrich Zangger, August 1916 (postmarked August 24), Berlin, Germany. 1 p., 5½ x 3½ in.

Inventory #25054       Price: $9,500

Historical Background

Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić (1875-1948) met as fellow students at Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich, a science university in Zurich. They married in January 1903, after their infant daughter had died or was given up for adoption the previous year. After eleven and a half years, Einstein and Marić-Einstein separated in July 1914, and she returned to Zurich with their sons, Hans Albert and Eduard.

In early July 1916, Mileva became ill, and Dr. Zangger gave her medical advice. Einstein initially believed that she was feigning illness, but by early August she was admitted to a hospital in Zurich run by a Catholic nursing order. Zangger and Michael Besso tried to counsel Albert and Mileva, who on personal matters both acted emotionally and irrationally, to avoid a divorce. Besso and Zangger discussed everything from the household budget and domestic help to lawyers. Both urged Einstein not to visit Mileva, as “the tension on both sides is too great.” Besso reported that Mileva was improving, but Zangger had diagnosed her condition as cerebral tuberculosis.

Einstein evidently appreciated his friends’ concern, for he wrote in July 1916 to Zangger: “With the help from you, Zürcher and Besso I would become insane.” Emil Zürcher was not only Einstein’s friend but also the lawyer in his divorce proceedings. The couple divorced in February 1919, and later that year, Albert married his first cousin Elsa Einstein Löwenthal (1876-1936).

In April 1914, Einstein joined the Prussian Academy of Sciences and the University of Berlin. He had been promised the directorship of a new Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics, but World War I prevented its establishment until 1917. The rise of Nazism led Einstein to renounce his German citizenship in March 1933; he became an American citizen in 1940.

Heinrich Zangger (1874-1957) was born in Switzerland and studied medicine at the University of Zurich. In 1902, he received his doctorate and was appointed to the faculty at the University. From 1912 until his retirement in 1941, he was a full professor and director of the Institute for Forensic Medicine at the University of Zurich. In 1932, he was elected as a member of the International Committee of the Red Cross. He was a consultant on almost every major catastrophe in Europe and was the founder of disaster medicine. In 1924, he received the Marcel Benoist Prize, often considered the Swiss Nobel Prize. In 1906, he contacted Albert Einstein about a research question, and they kept up a lively correspondence from 1910 until 1933, with more sporadic communication until 1947. Einstein later described Zangger as “one of the most interesting people I have ever met.”[1]

Albert Einstein (1879-1955) was born in the Kingdom of Wurttemberg in the German Empire to non-observant Ashkenazi Jewish parents. In 1894, the Einstein family moved to Italy. Einstein went to Switzerland to finish his secondary schooling, and graduated from the Swiss Federal Polytechnic in Zürich in 1900. In 1903, he married Mileva Marić (1875-1948), with whom he had two sons. In 1919, they divorced and he married his cousin Elsa Löwenthal. In 1905, he received a Ph.D. from the University of Zürich. From 1908 to 1932, he taught at a series of universities in Switzerland, the Austrian Empire, and the German Empire. As a theoretical physicist, he published ground-breaking papers as early as 1905 and developed the theory of relativity including the mass–energy equivalence formula, E = mc2. In 1922, he received the Nobel Prize in Physics for the discovery of the photoelectric effect. In January 1933, when Adolph Hitler came to power, Einstein was visiting the United States and remained here, becoming a citizen in 1940. A year earlier, he signed a letter to President Franklin D. Roosevelt warning that Germany could develop a nuclear bomb, and urging the U.S. to become involved in uranium research, thus beginning the “Manhattan project.” Though he focused on the need to defeat Hitler during the war, afterwards he became known for efforts to further world peace. At the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N.J., from 1933 until his death in 1955, he worked unsuccessfully to develop a unified field theory and to refute the accepted interpretation of quantum physics. Considered the father of modern physics and one of the most prolific intellects of history, Einstein published more than 300 scientific papers and over 150 non-scientific works.

Complete Translation[2]

Dear Zangger,

Please let me know briefly whether you received my reply to your last letter along with the papers. Besso, who is in Berne right now, informs me that my wife is feeling a bit better. But in combination with your diagnosis, this is cold comfort. In any case, I am glad that the woman is receiving the best care possible. Aside from this worry, I am living peacefully and contentedly in my quiet cell, into which no newspapers penetrate. I have the feeling as if people had all gone into hibernation; because whatever is active does not suggest human feeling. How is Huguenin doing?[3] Send him my regards.

I wish you happy holidays,

yours,

A. Einstein.

<2>

[Endorsement:] Please forward!

Complete Transcript

Lieber Zangger!

Teilen Sie mir bitte kurz mit, ob Sie meine Antwort auf Ihren letzten Brief sowie die Abhandlungen erhalten haben. Besso, der gerade in Bern ist, teilt mir mit, dass es meiner Frau etwas besser gehe. Aber in Verbindung mit Ihrer Diagnose ist dies ein schwacher Trost. Jedenfalls bin ich froh, dass die Frau möglichst gut versorgt ist. Abgesehen von dieser Sorge lebe ich ruhig und zufrieden in meiner stillen Klause, in die keine Zeitung dringt. Es ist mir, wie wenn sich die Menschen zum Winterschlaf gelegt hätten; den was lebt erinnert nicht an menschliches Empfinden. Wie geht es Huguenin? Grüssen Sie ihn.

Glückliche Ferien wünscht Ihnen

Ihr

A. Einstein.

<2>

[Address:] Herrn Prof. Dr. H. Zangger Bergstr. Zürich Schweiz.

[Return Address:] Abs. A. Einstein Wittelsbacherstr. 13. Berlin-Wilmersdorrf.

[Endorsement:] Bitte nachsenden!


[1] Heinrich A. Medicus, “The Friendship among Three Singular Men: Einstein and His Swiss Friends Besso and Zangger,” Isis 85 (September 1994): 458.

[2] Robert Schulman et.al., eds., The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 8, Part A: The Berlin Years: Correspondence 1914-1917 (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1998), Doc. 252.

[3] Gustav Huguenin (1840-1920) was a Swiss internist and pathologist who obtained his medical doctorate in 1864. From 1874 to 1883, he served as director of the medical clinic in Zurich but resigned for health reasons. He practiced medicine in Zurich and Weissenburg.


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