Now all roads lead to France and heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead returning lightly dance.
Edward Thomas, Roads

Friday, October 20, 2017

Albert Einstein in the First World War

Since the posting on Albert Schweitzer a few days ago, I guess I've had Alberts on my mind.  So here's a little something about another well-known Albert who was around during the Great War.

Albert Einstein at His Flat in Berlin During the War

Albert Einstein was a pacifist of long standing and sincerity. In January 1896, with his father's approval, he renounced his citizenship in the German Kingdom of W├╝rttemberg to avoid military service. While his friend, Fritz Haber, was a signatory of the Fulda Manifesto [aka Manifesto of the Ninety-Three,  a 4 October 1914, proclamation endorsed by 93 prominent German scientists, scholars, and artists, declaring their unequivocal support of German military actions in the early period of World War I], Einstein (now a German citizen again) signed a counter-manifesto—one of only four signatories—that called for an end to the war and the creation of a united Europe.

War had not yet come to Berlin in April 1914 when Einstein arrived in Berlin to accept an appointment to the still-to-be-founded Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics. [The institute never had its own building; it was located in Einstein's own flat.] In Berlin, he struggled with the separation from his wife, Mileva, and their two sons. Despite the war atmosphere, he would continue his work in general relativity and gravitational concepts.  On 25 November 1915, Albert Einstein held his seminal lecture before the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin, which ended with the words: “Thus, the general theory of relativity as a logical edifice has finally been completed.”

A devout pacifist, Einstein would support antiwar movements through the war. He called Berlin a "lunatic asylum" and expressed a desire to move to Mars "to observe the inmates through a telescope". The strain of wartime conditions, family troubles, and overwork (he produced ten scientific papers and a book on relativity within a year) took their toll on the physicist. In the fall of 1917 he collapsed in agonizing pain and lost more than 50 pounds in two months.

Einstein continued to work, despite failing health, although he could not contact fellow "enemy" scientists. On Armistice Day, a group of revolutionary students seized the University and imprisoned the rector and several professors. Einstein, with his friend and fellow physicist Max Born intervened, eventually negotiating a settlement at the Reichstag. In 1919, one month before the signing of the Versailles Treaty, observations made of a solar eclipse by Sir Arthur Eddington confirmed Einstein's theory about the relationship of time and space and the nature of gravity. From that day on, he would be recognized as an international celebrity.He left the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute in 1922.

From: "Scientific Genius Encounters World Conflict" by Douglas K. Shaffer


  1. And yet he signed the letter that got the Manhattan Project started - because Enrico Fermi needed someone with some name recognition in order to get the President of the United States to notice the recommendation of a handful of European refugee scientists.

  2. Thank your lucky stars for the Manhattan Project, without it estimates are of 1,000,000 dead Americans and Allied soldiers and how many more maimed in an invasion of Japan, not to mention the Japanese numbers.

  3. Wow this Man was legendary in his time I guess.