July 20, 1933
Einstein, Working to Save Jews from Hitler, Discusses the “Brown Book of Hitler Terror” and Personal Risk
In the 1930s, it only looked like Einstein was the world’s greatest physicist; what he really did, he liked to say, was run a kind of immigration office. His job was simple: save as many Jews from Hitler’s persecution as possible. To this end he wrote countless testimonials and affidavits; headed any number of organizations; spoke to and worked with anyone in power, who might help. That he wrote so many letters of reference that, by their very profusion, they almost failed to signify; or lent his name to organizations that were communist fronts; or that the politicians and statesmen with whom he talked, did not always listen – none of that mattered. Einstein had undertaken a project which, although overshadowed by his scientific achievements, may have been the most remarkable of his life: he personally saved hundreds of Jewish lives.
Writing here to Lionel Ettlinger – who would spend 80% of his personal wealth finding safe havens for Jewish refugees – Einstein discusses the provision of a testimonial “letter of reference”; the lending of his name, as President, of the Geneva-based World Committee for the Victims of German Fascism – which he knew was a Communist front; and his trip to England, made later that day, to meet with Churchill, Sir Austen Chamberlain, and Lloyd George. But Einstein’s most significant remarks concern the writing of The Brown Book - the first popular exposé of what was happening in Hitler’s Germany:
As far as the Brown Book is concerned, I think it critical that only foreign non-Jews express themselves, that is to say, only bystanders who are not personally involved. If I appear publically as a prosecutor of the German government, it will have terrifying consequences for the German Jews. [Others] are begging me to stay in the background and not provide more pretenses for reprisals against the German Jews. I would never neglect my higher duties for the sake of considering some relatives.
When, the next month, The Brown Book of the Hitler Terror and the Burning of the Reichstag came out – in seventeen languages and a combined print run of several million copies – it documented, in hard fact, what few outside of Germany could even imagine: concentration camps – book burnings – the brutal persecution of the Jews. It chronicled, too, Nazi complicity in the burning of the Reichstag and for this, especially, the German government condemned Einstein. A bounty was even put on his head: one million dollars for the man who would kill him. This amused Einstein. “I did not know,” he said, smiling and touching his long white hair, “it was worth so much.”
Typed Letter Signed (“A. Einstein”), in German, recto and verso, 2 pages, quarto, Le Coq sur Mer (Belgium), July 20, 1933. To Lionel Ettlinger in Paris.