Tons of Albert Einstein Documents Are Now Online

On Friday Digital Einstein went live, bringing with it a treasure trove of Einstein letters, correspondences, postcards, and notes detailing the life of one of the world’s greatest thinkers. As The New York Times reports, these are The Dead Sea Scrolls of physics and you can read them today for free.

Of course, many of these early letters leading up to 1923 were originally written in Einstein’s native German tongue, but Princeton’s archives allows users to toggle between English-translated versions and the original text. These letters also aren’t just a bunch of super dense chicken scratch that would go over your head unless you were armed with a physics doctorate (though that would help), these missives contain divorce files, personal letters, and one awesome note to Marie Curie denouncing science trolls, as detailed by Vox.

I discovered a interesting letter from Einstein to the Swiss Ambassador in Berlin, Hermann Rüfenacht asking for a Diplomatic passport for him and his wife travelling to Japan, China, Dutch Indies and Spain to save the “high visa fees compared to his salary”. Swiss authorities never granted him a Diplomatic passport but the Germans issued him a Diplomatic passport in 1925 and a  Ministerial-Pass in 1930 which are almost similar to Diplomatic passports, visas were issued also free of charge with this type of travel document.



(English translation)

*Barbara Wolff was explaining to me as follows…

“Einstein owes his German Departmental Passport to a petty-minded Swiss official who did not get over the fact that Germany sort of outsmarted the Swiss ambassador when the Nobel Committee raised the question who was to receive the Nobel Prize on behalf of the absent Einstein. So persuasively did the German representative argue that Einstein was a German citizen and the honor, therefore, would be his,  that the Swiss ambassador did not even dare to challenge him.

When the Foreign Office in Berlin realized that the brisk assertion was actually baseless, the state secretary offered a way out of the embarrassing situation by imposing the German nationality on Einstein, retroactively, as a precondition of his Berlin professorship. For quite some time, though, Einstein still used to travel on his Swiss passport and though, abroad, he was usually received as the Berlin professor, at least he did not introduce himself as a German citizen.

The early 1920s are the years of more and more frequent trips abroad, among them many on behalf of the League of Nations. With the objective of eluding the tiresome and time-consuming border control, Einstein requested a diplomatic passport from the Swiss authorities. Yet the above mentioned Swiss official, offended in the name of his country, was not willing to acknowledge this German celebrity as a Swiss diplomat.

Now the Germans jumped at the chance. Within a few days they provided Einstein with a German diplomatic passport thus producing evidence that they knew how to prove themselves worthy of this Berlin gem.

This happened in early 1925. The diplomatic passport issued that year did not survive.”

*Barbara Wolff, Einstein Information Officer, Albert Einstein Archives, Hebrew University of Jerusalem

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