My Father Tried to Save Einstein, but Einstein Didn’t Want to be Saved.
My late father lived in Berlin and attended the university where Einstein was teaching.
My late father, in terms of today’s world, would have been an intellectual giant. Of course, he was an intellectual giant, but growing up with him as just ‘Daddy,’ I never knew that then. I know it now.
Before I tell you the story of how my father tried to save Einstein, I’m going to share one of his anecdotes about Einstein’s farewell speech. Here it is — in his own words.
The poison of Nazi surroundings has etched indelible grooves into our soul. Perhaps the following three little stories can convey our sense of humiliation, frustration and fury to readers of a younger generation.
Even the twentieth century’s greatest scientist shared the humiliation of his Jewish brethren. Sneering at “Relativity — Einstein’s false theorizing to pervert and mislead his German students”, the Nazis removed the country’s most eminent professor from all his academic and research positions.
Berlin’s loss became Princeton’s gain. But not before Albert Einstein defiantly lectured a last time on German soil — to a mass audience.
Berlin’s public halls were barred to Jews. The large Westend synagogue in the Princzregentenstrase became the hastily converted venue, for his farewell public address.
I sat in the upstairs gallery looking down on to the temporary stage where the lonely figure with the flowing hair lectured in quiet voice, building an outline of the universe as he saw it.
To his right and left, a dozen or so of his peers sat, staring gravely into the auditorium, in silent protest at Einstein’s exclusion from German academics. Around me eager young faces… almost breathless quietude … And busy fingers filing pages of notebooks.
Then the great man spoke his last words and bowed to the audience.
A moment of silence, then ear-splitting thunderous applause — a sound never before heard or suffered in a House of God.
In my mind’s eyes I still see Albert Einstein stepping down from the podium, and — followed by his peers –silently and slowly walking out along the centre of the aisle.
My late father was a university student at the Berlin university, the Heidelberg university, and the Sorbonne in France. I wish I had asked him how he got that right, but there he did graduate with degrees in both law and journalism — and he spoke 11 languages.
He really got around. Somehow, in his late teens, he got to cover famous film stars, the first television fair in the world in 1929 (he was 19), and invited to the first rocket experiments in the world (in Berlin). His family must have had some real clout!
In any event, during one of his holidays, he and a friend were sailing on a lake in Capath, Brandenburg. While doing so, they saw a small skiff floating without any semblance of direction. The skiff was also about to get tangled in some large reeds — I guess it was a very shallow lake. Thinking that someone might be in trouble, my father and his friend rowed towards the lone man sitting in the small boat.
Summer house of Albert Einstein in Caputh, built in 1929. Einstein, though a non swimmer, was a passionate recreational sailor on the lake, but was only able to use his retreat until the Nazi takeover in 1933. After German reunification and the restitution to the Einstein family, the house is now a property of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Source.
It turned out to be Einstein. I bet my father’s heartbeat went up in double digits — he was a great fan.
“Herr doktor,” my late father addressed him, “Sie scheinen Ihre Ruder verloren zu haben. Können wir helfen?” That means, ‘Mr. Doctor, you seem to have lost your oars. Can we help?”
Einstein refused their offer, explaining that the reeds would hide him, and he could think better on the water, well hidden from all. Now you know the secret of great minds!
Thinking about this, I can’t help wondering if my late father purposely went rowing on the lake to meet Einstein. I wouldn’t put it past him. He ‘accidently’ was lunching at the same place my mother was after he overheard her speaking to another guy saying that they were going to ‘lunch at the Elizabeth.’
I guess we all have our heroes, and Einstein was my father’s.