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Albert Einstein Speaks of Chaim Weizmann while Advising Dr. Leo Kohn, who Lost his Job after Siding with Einstein in a Failed Attempt to get the Hebrew University’s President Fired
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I am telling you in confidence that Weizmann, who wants to distance himself from politics, hopes to become the academic leader of the university.

ALBERT EINSTEIN. Typed Letter Signed, to Dr. Leo Kohn, June 1, 1931. In German. 1 p., 8˝ x 11 in. Einstein recommends seeking a professorship in the United States, and incorrectly claims that Weizmann wants out of politics.

Inventory #25320       Price: $8,500

Complete Translation

ALBERT EINSTEIN                                          CAPUTH at potsdam, 1 June 1931

Dear Mr. Kohn,

            I am sorry I missed seeing you because of my trip. My wife told me how unhappy you were and that on top of it all, you lost your job. I am telling you in confidence that Weizmann, who wants to distance himself from politics, hopes to become the academic leader of the university. I think that would be good, in part because of his competence, and in part because it would be relatively easy to overcome the resistance against the creation of an academic head.

As far as you are concerned, I think you should aim for a post at an American university as instructor of political history. The only difficulty I see could be how to learn of such opportunities. I believe that your good recommendations from England, as well as mine, will stand you in good stead. Do you recall if you have somebody you could turn to for information (Professor Frankfurter, Columbia University or Salomon Flexner?).

With kindest regards and best wishes,

Yours, / A. Einstein.

Historical Background

Einstein returned from his second visit to the United States (December 1930 to March 1931) and resumed his work at the Einstein Institute in Potsdam, Germany, spending the summer in Caputh, where he wrote this letter.

American philanthropist Felix Warburg had donated $500,000 to the Institute for Jewish Studies, which became part of Hebrew University when that opened in 1925. Warburg’s gift was conditioned on American Rabbi Judah L. Magnes heading the school. Chaim Weizmann, president of the World Zionist Organization agreed. Albert Einstein, as a member of Hebrew University’s Board of Governors and Academic Council, was no fan of Magnes’ qualifications or management style.

In September of 1927, Einstein had asked Leo Kohn to convey to others at the University his threat to resign unless Magnes was replaced. Magnes stayed, and in 1928 Einstein resigned. (Magnes continued as chancellor, and then became the University’s first president, serving until 1948.) We don’t know if Kohn’s siding with Einstein caused him to be fired, but clearly, he was not in the good graces of the administration.

In this letter responding to another from Kohn, Einstein declares that Chaim Weizmann, Chairman of the Board of Governors, was interested in “distancing himself from politics,” and wanted to be the University’s academic head. Weizmann of course did not escape politics.

Here, Einstein suggests that Kohn turn to professors in the United States for information about positions. Einstein likely refers to Professor Felix Frankfurter (1882-1965), who taught at Harvard Law School (not Columbia University) from 1914 to 1939, before serving on the U.S. Supreme Court from 1939 to 1962; and Abraham (not Salomon) Flexner (1866-1959), an American educator and educational reformer who was one of the founders of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. Whether Kohn made those inquiries or not, in 1932 he went to Ireland, and wrote a study on the constitution of the Irish Free State.

Albert Einstein left Germany for the last time in December 1932. After Adolf Hitler seized power in January 1933, Einstein declared he would not return, and in the autumn of 1933, he emigrated to the United States, where he joined the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

After Israel became a state, Weizmann was chosen its first president. Kohn, who had become Weizmann’s political secretary in 1934, was asked to draft Israel’s constitution. After Weizmann’s death in 1952, Einstein was asked to serve as Israel’s president, but politely declined.

Einstein, Hebrew University, and Leo Kohn

A related Einstein letter, also to Kohn, dated September 20, 1927, conveys his position about Hebrew University. Translation:

“I gave Mr. Warburg my opinion in all candor, but subsequently never heard from him. For this reason, I think it improper to write him again. If the agreement with Hadassah will be accepted, or if the Magnes proposals will be approved either in total or parts thereof, I shall not only resign from the Board, as well as from the Academic Council, but also publicize in the Jewish press in all frankness the reason for my resignation. If Magnes cannot be eliminated in the very near future, I shall also follow through with my resignation. I am doing this because I am convinced that at this point, no real harm would result by compromising the University in the eyes of the Jewish public. Perhaps it will serve the interest of the entire matter, if you could make sure everybody concerned is made aware of my decision. Yours sincerely/ A. Einstein.” (Inventory #22048, sold)

After Einstein resigned, he did not publicize his reasons as threatened, but did explain in private:

“The bad thing about the business was that the good Felix Warburg …ensured that the incapable Magnes was made director of the Institute, a failed American rabbi, who, through his dilettantish enterprises had become uncomfortable to his family in America, who very much hoped to dispatch him honorably to some exotic place. This ambitious and weak person surrounded himself with other morally inferior men, who did not allow any decent person to succeed there ... These people managed to poison the atmosphere there totally and to keep the level of the institution low.” (Fölsing, Albrecht. Albert Einstein: A Biography, (trans. Eald Osers), Penguin, 1998, 494-495.)

Leo Kohn (1894-1961) was born in Frankfurt and studied at several German universities. He received his doctorate of law from the University of Heidelberg. Kohn settled in Israel in 1921 and became a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem in 1925. After losing his position there, in 1932 he went to Dublin where he studied the constitution of the Irish Free State. In 1934 he became political secretary of the Jewish Agency, serving as advisor to Chaim Weizmann from 1948 to 1952. Immediately after independence, Kohn was chosen to draft Israel’s constitution. His draft stipulated Israel’s historical claim to Ereẓ Israel, followed Jewish teachings on the sanctity of human life and the dignity of man, and rejected the death penalty and all forms of degrading punishment. However, Israel’s Knesset instead legislated a series of Basic Laws that have yet to be consolidated into a written constitution. From 1953 until his death he was Weizmann Professor of International Relations at the Hebrew University. In recognition of his service to the state, in 1958 he was given the personal rank of ambassador.

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.

Chaim Weizmann (1874-1952) was born in the Russian Empire, in what is now Belarus. In 1892, he went to Germany to study chemistry, and he taught Hebrew at an orthodox Jewish boarding school. He studied in Darmstadt, Berlin, and completed his studies in Switzerland with a doctorate in organic chemistry. After teaching in Switzerland, he moved to the United Kingdom in 1904. He taught chemistry at the University of Manchester for the next thirty years. He became a distinguished chemist, registering some one hundred patents, and provided important aid to British efforts in World War I, particularly to the Admiralty and Ministry of Munitions. As a leader of British Zionists, he convinced Prime Minister Arthur Balfour to support the creation of a Jewish homeland in Palestine, which led to the Balfour Declaration of 1917. He strongly encouraged Jewish settlement in Palestine, and was instrumental in the creation of the Jewish Brigade in the British Army in World War II. In May 1948, he became president of the provisional government of the new nation of Israel. In 1949, Weizmann became the first president of Israel. Weizmann asked David Ben-Gurion to form a government, and Ben-Gurion became the new nation’s first Prime Minister. Reelected for a second term in 1951, Weizmann served as president until his death in November 1952.


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