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Professor Einstein, Returning to America After Nine Years, Defines Forces Keeping Modern Jew United

December 12, 1930
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Prof. Albert Einstein, his shock of white hair standing like an aura about his head, marched into his cabin and said, “Don’t we have to eat?” He looked at his wife, questioning, like a boy asking for more cake after dinner.

The hundred and forty-seven photographers, radio men, reporters, and telegraph men who had invaded the Belgenland at 8 a. m. yesterday morning had departed. Prof. Einstein had stood the ordeal very well. He had bantered, jested good-humoredly with them, astonished them with his facile wit, and posed for almost all the pictures they wanted. The serious questions he had dodged. “I won’t answer any questions on Palestine,” he had announced, “because every paper will have my answer a different way.”

But just now he decided to discuss Zionism and the Jewish question before going down to lunch. Frau Einstein said, “Certainly, you have to eat!” But the mathematician had already seated himself before the glowing fireplace. His first exclusive American interview was given to a representative of the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

He was asked to define the forces that keep a modern Jew united with his race.


“Every human commonwealth has its roots in a shared tradition or in the observance of a common way of life,” he said. “The blood-stock may be a strong factor in the preservation of this sense of unity, as it is among our Jewish people, but a national human group may exist without ties of blood.

“For example,” said Prof. Einstein, “the American people are emerging as a national type, although they have no common blood-stock.

“A human group-unity,” said Prof. Einstein, picking his words, and using long German words that have no exact equivalent in English, “is affected by the common historic past of the group, by certain distinct psychic traits developed in the people by this historic experience, and by a common understanding of morality, and way of life. The basis of this moral understanding is absorbed in youth-time, and therefore its characteristic outlines remain firmly fixed through life.”


“Among our Jewish people, this group-unity is made active not only through our religious tradition, but through certain other factors that we all feel, but which are very difficult to define.”

Here Prof. Einstein paused. His life-work, in a sense, is to define things that seem to escape definition. His hand was against his cheek. A tiny shaving-scar showed on the cheek. He rubbed his forehead, and passed his hand along his hair.

He dropped, for a moment, the tone of a man formally formulating thoughts. “It can’t be defined,” he said. “No, it is a quality that we feel, I feel it, we all feel it. But there are no words for it.”

At this moment the cabin-boy, for the second time, announced that lunch was being served. Frau Einstein seemed anxious. But the Professor wanted to go on with his discussion. “What shall the Jew do about this sense of being a Jew?” he was asked.

“The Jew must seek to clarify this feeling, and realize himself as an integral part of his group. He must exert himself, and devote a part of his energy to furthering the determination of that sense of being a Jew. What will be his reward? The labor in itself will be a reward, just as gold is the product of the labor of the gold-miner. How is the Jew to reach this determination of himself as a Jew? Each man must find his own way of expressing that feeling.”


Professor Einstein defined two ways in which the Jew may work toward the clarification of his racial feeling. “The first is for him to take part with his fellows, so that their mutual help may aid him in securing the general understanding of Judaism. The second is to try to make secure, and to better the moral good. That is, in every way of human action.”

Prof. Einstein was again—and this time anxiously—reminded of his lunch.

He went on. “All this discussion has no relation to the political life of the Jewish people. This is not a form for political determination.”

It is generally known that Prof. Einstein is a devoted Zionist. His first public utterance on reaching America was made through Avukah, the American student Zionist association. On Friday, he is to receive a delegation of the Zionist Organization of America and the Jewish National Fund. On Saturday, he will speak again over the radio for Avukah, giving his views on Palestine.

Something of his devotion to Palestine is understood by his explanation of the relationship of Zionism to this general conception of Jew-being. “I think the greatest worth of Zionism is that it builds up again the self-respect of the Jew, that has been weakened through various forces active in the world; it carries the Jew onward toward self-respect, in spite of the strife that the Jew encounters all over the globe. Because of Zionism, a new Jewish solidarity is felt.”

Zionism, however, cannot solve the Jewish economic problem, he stated. “The up-building of Palestine can never solve that part of the Jewish question as the size of the country is limited.”


He looks to American Jewry as a great power in determining the future of the race, as “American Jewry is more secure in an economic way than any other part of the Jewish people, and American Jewry has suffered less politically in the last ten years than any other part of the Jewish people.”

He would not, however, discuss the possible spiritual contribution of the Americans.

He was asked whether he thought Jewish youth should learn to speak Hebrew. “The Jews should certainly have a language,” he said. “I am not sufficiently acquainted with that problem to say which language should be theirs.”

Then Frau Einstein, with the aid of the cabin-boy on his third or fourth visit, managed to get the Professor to realize that he really should eat lunch. He arose.

“We will speak some more about these problems,” he said.


Earlier in the morning, as the Belgenland drew near shore, it had been boarded by what seemed to be the hungriest crew of newspapermen that ever pounced on a foreign celebrity. Prof. Einstein, accompanied by his wife, and by his assistant Dr. Walter Mayer, emerged. He was greeted by Dr. von Levinsky, German Consul General and by Dr. Carl Schwartz, local German consul. Hendrik Van Loon, celebrated historian, and a fellow-passenger, completed the titanic bodyguard.

Prof. Einstein had evidently prepared himself for the ordeal. He remained affable. He answered, or rather cleverly side-tracked, all questions. Such “scientific” queries as “can you define the fourth-dimension in one word?” he gaily parried, saying, “I am not a spiritualist!” His laughter was more easy than that of anyone else in the room. His wife’s laughter, too, was free, and long, and good to hear.

Prof. Einstein said that it would take him three days to give a “popular” explanatioin of his theory of relativity, but he reassured those present, insisting that this theory, or any other philosophic conception, could have “no effect whatsoever on the course of civilization.”

He was asked of the force of religion in promoting world peace. “So far,” he said, “it seems to me religion has been of no help in promoting peace, but of course I am no prophet.”


Someone asked him what he thought of Hitler. “I’m no friend of his!” he said, and chuckled. Dr. Mayer amplified the Professor’s statement, saying it was his belief that the anti-Semitic utterances of the Hitlerites were not truly representative of German feeling.

Prof. Einstein said, “Hitler is living on the empty stomach of the German people. The instant that stomach is filled, Hitler’s party will find no more do.”

Then Prof. Einstein was urged to pose for the talkies. He balked. He wouldn’t talk. At last he consented to pose, but insisted that his wife and his assistant, and some friends on board go with him. “I can’t do it alone,” he pleaded. He stood for the talkies, his fine white hair blowing in the cold morning wind. His massive head, in the open of the deck, was strangely powerful. One didn’t need to know he was Prof. Einstein to realize he was a man of genius. To look at the head was enough.

After that, he was rushed into the drawing room to speak his welcome to America. George M. Hyman, executive secretary of Avukah, said, “Professor Einstein is first and foremost a student, and it is a deep satisfaction to know that he unites with American professors and other university authorities in showing his interest in our movement.”

Prof. Einstein will remain on the Belgenland as it waits over in New York for four days. Then he will proceed to Pasadena. He will remain in America altogether about six weeks, consulting with mathematicians and physicists.

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