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Albert Einstein thanks German Jewish Physician for a book on Anti-Semitism, “our eternal unsolvable problem”
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our eternal unsolvable problem...is a sickness of the others, and not our own, meaning that the most important thing is not to catch it and to keep our balance—as long as they don’t beat us to death.

ALBERT EINSTEIN. Autograph Letter Signed, to Isidore W. Held, Princeton, April 19, 1944. In German. 1 p., 8˝ x 11 in.

Inventory #25317       Price: $16,000

Complete Translation

                         Princeton 19 April 44

            Dear Dr. Held,

            First, I’d like to thank you for sending me the interesting book about our eternal unsolvable problem. It suffices to know that it is a sickness of the others, and not our own, meaning that the most important thing is not to catch it and to keep our balance—as long as they don’t beat us to death.

            But this letter has another purpose. I was visited by a Jewish man from Eastern Europe who appears to be a little feeble-minded and is aware of his helplessness. He came to ask my advice. However, what seems to be the real problem is that nobody is looking after him to make sure he manages. He attributes his condition to a blow to the head he suffered over 30 years ago. The man is able do some work, but he requires a certain amount of support because he is not equipped to manage the daily struggle of living.

            With kind regards and best wishes,

Yours,

A. Einstein.

Historical Background

Albert Einstein fled Nazi Germany in 1932, and in 1933, he emigrated to the United States, where he joined the faculty of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.

In this letter, he thanks Dr. Held, a prominent New York physician and Jewish community leader, for a book on anti-Semitism, their “eternal unsolvable problem.” His language here is consistent with many earlier expressions of anti-Semitism as a “disease” or “sickness” of “the others.”

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.

Isidore W. Held (1876-1947) was born in Austria and graduated with a medical degree from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1902, followed by several years of post-graduate study in Berlin and Vienna. As a physician, he wrote more than eighty books on medical subjects and translated a number of German medical works. He was also very active in Jewish communal affairs and helped many Jewish intellectuals escape from Nazi Germany. He was a professor of medicine at the New York University College of Medicine until his retirement in 1941, and served as an attending physician at Beth Israel Hospital from 1929 to 1945. His son Abraham Held was killed in action while serving in the U.S. Army in Germany in April 1945. The day after Isidore Held’s death, Albert Einstein wrote to Held’s widow, “As a role model for his fellow men he was the best that a human being can be.”

Complete Transcription

                         Princeton 19.IV.44

            Lieber Dr. Held!

            Ich danke Ihnen zuerst für die Sendung des interessanten Buches über unser ewiges unlösbares Problem. Es ist genug zu wissen, dass es eine Krankheit der andern ist und keine eigene, sodass das Wichtigste ist, sich vor Ansteckung zu schützen und ein gutes Gleichgewicht zu bewahren – solange sie einen nicht totschlagen.

            Dieser Brief aber hat noch einen anderen Sinn. Es kam da zu mir ein ostjüdischer Mann, der etwas schwachsinning zu sein scheint und selber das Gefühl der Hilflosigkeit hat. Er kam, um mich um Rat zu fragen. In Wahrheit aber handelt es sich wohl darum, dass sich niemand um ihn kümmert, dass er sich zurecht findet. Er schreibt seinen Zustand einem Schlag auf den Kopf zu, den er vor mehr als 30 Jahren erfahren haben soll. Ich denke aber eher, dass es sich um eine hereditäre Drüsenstörung handelt. Der Mann ist partiel arbeitsfähig, bedarf aber einer gewissen Stütze, da er dem Lebenskampf nicht voll gewachsen ist.

            Mit herzlichen Grüssen und Wünschen

Ihr

A. Einstein.


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