An Interview With Einstein
October 27, 1946
Princeton, New Jersey, is a town of 8,000 residents currently celebrating, along with the entire world, the 200th birthday of its famous university. Woodrow Wilson, tragic dreamer of the first League of Nations, was president of Princeton University prior to becoming president of the United States. Today another dreamer lives there. On the second floor of a wooden cottage at 112 Mercer Street he sits and grinds away at the creation of one mathematical formula expressing the world and its wonders — the profundity of atoms, the constellations of faraway space, the rainbow. He’s also investigating whether it’s possible for another miracle to be envisioned — creating “one universe” for people, a world of peace and justice.
I knocked on the door of the small, humble house on Mercer Street where the diligent Einstein lives. A young woman led me to the second floor, to the office of the great professor who as a little boy was considered developmentally delayed. Professor Einstein is very busy but is always interested in meeting people when he believes it has a good purpose. His large Jewish head with his warm eyes are already familiar throughout America. He’s in shirtsleeves, like a worker. He shakes my hand and asks me to sit across from him at the desk on which several journals and pieces of paper with mathematical calculations lie. There’s a vast window on the back part of the room overlooking a flower garden. It’s filled with light. Tea is served.
Einstein discussed three main points with me during our talk that lasted one hour: 1) That Jews must remain loyal to themselves and not be dominated internally by the anti-Semites’ hatred. 2) Regarding the meaning of atomic energy. 3) Regarding his latest discoveries in the natural world.
The 67-year-old scientist who learned much from his experiences in Germany expressed his opinion that we Jews will always suffer anti-Semitism because we will always be “different” from non-Jews. They will always find excuses to persecute us. Einstein requested I use the term “we Jews” throughout our conversation. The pain he feels in this regard is too great for him to express any differently. He believes, however, that we must not internalize the oppression. We must remain true to ourselves: meaning, we must always behave as Jews with Jewish self-respect and faith. The struggle against anti-Semitism must also be led in a dignified manner.
Einstein believes that the Germans — at least a large majority of them — absorbed a “culture” that made them brutal. No other people except the Germans could have created such a system to exterminate Jews. He explained how interesting it is that a few decades earlier, anti-Semitism in Germany was weak. Now, Einstein says that when German scientists write to him, he doesn’t respond to them. He cannot forgive their monumental apathy during the war.
Einstein is known as a Zionist but he believes the movement for a homeland in the Land of Israel cannot be achieved through attempting to create a Jewish commonwealth while a majority of the population of that land is Arab. That is unjust and impractical, he said. He’s convinced that as difficult as it may be, no other option exists than to find a path of understanding with the Arabs and create a state (similar to Switzerland) where Jews and Arabs must be equals. He is very close to Dr. Magnes’s Ihud movement [a binationalist Zionist party]. Simultaneously, he supports full immigration rights for Jews to the Land of Israel and other countries.
Einstein became a Zionist partially through his familiarity with [Chaim] Weizmann. He is also an enthusiastic social democrat, a movement in which his childhood friend Dr. Friedrich Adler plays a large role. Einstein told me he feels that without socialism — a democratic, peaceful socialism — it will be impossible to create any enduring world structure nor a lasting peace.
He made that statement when turning to discuss the atom bomb in which he had a large role at its start. As is known, in 1939, Einstein along with several other scientists turned President Roosevelt’s attention to Germany’s serious activities in creating an atomic bomb. They told Roosevelt that America had to surpass the Germans.
Although Einstein’s relativity theory formed the basis for the discovery of atomic power, Einstein said he had nothing to do with the development of the atom bomb between 1941 and 1945. However, he did help the government several times during the war regarding other “military-scientific” questions, he said.
How does he feel currently regarding the atom bomb? With a genuine shiver he explains: It pains him that such a powerful weapon was created to do harm.
The new gathering of nations — the United Nations — must transform itself into a governing world body in order to be truly effective in the era of atomic energy, Einstein says.
He speaks sorrowfully that mankind first came to know the wonder of atomic energy through the angel of death. Einstein says atomic power can be so useful, that it can ease mankind’s labors, it can bring healing to the world and bring together disparate peoples. And yet instead it’s being used by world leaders to divide people.
The author of the theory of relativity doesn’t consider himself a specialist on the subject of atomic science. But he knows more about it than the average person. How can he explain such hard-to-fathom notions such as that the solid chair a person sits on is, practically speaking, completely empty — having nearly nothing within it apart from millions and millions of infinitesimal planets spinning around millions and millions of minute suns?
It’s not hard to comprehend, Einstein said. When we look with our eyes at a bit of the wood of the chair, we see one thing. When we look, however, through a microscope, we already can see that the simple shard of wood is composed of many parts. We can understand that if we had even more powerful microscopes or other apparatus of that sort, we’d see even more remarkable things in this chair that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
Atomic scientists don’t yet have the strongest apparatus in order to see the goings on at the heart of the chair, so in the meantime they bear down on them with the apparatus of their minds and other machines that allow for a hint at what the atom is likely to contain.
Einstein said it is very possible that current notions of the atom are rudimentary. We’re at the beginning of understanding what might exist. He constantly dreams of getting closer to the truth. In the last few years, he’s been at work on a unified field theory that takes into account everything in nature, including every kind of energy. He told me he has just published a paper in a mathematical journal and expresses the hope that in the next few years his theory will be accepted. If he proves this, it will be an even greater achievement than relativity.
“I am, however, not sure I’m on the right path,” he said in his usual manner.
But he is sure of one thing — the imperative of uniting people in the struggle for a world governing body. Each government must use its power to save humanity, he said. The moral energy must stand against egoistic motives if we wish to protect our generations from atomic destruction.
[Translated by Chana Pollack]