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Culture

That Time My Father Met Albert Einstein

Around the end of the 1940s, Albert Einstein needed surgery and decided to have it done at Brooklyn Jewish Hospital. My family used Brooklyn Jewish because my father’s older brother Will was attending physician in Ob/Gyn there. He delivered me and my sister there. My father was there for a hemorrhoidectomy. In those days, hospitals had a hallway, rooms on either side, no bathrooms in the rooms. You had swinging barroom doors instead of regular doors. Pop’s room was diagonally across from Einstein’s room. You have to imagine the chaos: Einstein’s there! He arrived in a bathrobe he must have brought over from Germany in 1943. The rattiest bathrobe anyone ever saw. Ratty enough that the doctors got together and bought him a new yellow bathrobe.

Next to my father was an elderly man who had just had surgery, who was wailing all night. And they told Einstein that they would move this man to another floor, and Einstein said, “You vill not move him! He is an old man, he is in pain, and you vill not move him on my account.”

Those days, when you had to go to the bathroom, a male nurse had to bring you down the hall to the men’s room. As luck would have it one day, my father and Dr. Einstein are going to the bathroom simultaneously. They got down the hall, each with their respective male nurses, they do their business, and now they’re walking back, and Einstein turns to my father, pouches under his eyes, and says something urgent. But he’s got a thick German accent. And my father is so excited Einstein is bothering to talk to him, but he can’t understand a word he’s saying. They get back to the room and my father says to the nurse, “What did Einstein say to me?” The nurse had to do another errand, and it takes a long time before he confers with Einstein. And during this interval, my Pop’s imagining some great revelatory statement he’s missed. The nurse comes over to my father. “Einstein said you shouldn’t go with a gown open in the back. You’ll catch a cold.”

Larry Pomerance was interviewed by Laurie Gwen Shapiro for her Forward column ‘Shapiro’s Heroes.’

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