Princeton, Israel Put Online Einstein’s Notes, Lover’s Letter

Albert Einstein Postcard
A postcard sent by Albert Einstein to his sick mother in which he told her that British astronomers had showed his predictions on the bending of light were correct. Source: The Hebrew University of Jerusalem via Bloomberg

Albert Einstein’s postcard to his sick mother joyfully reporting proof of the bending of light and a letter suggesting a solution to the Jewish-Arab conflict have been put online.

The Internet archive of what will be more than 80,000 documents also includes a former mistress’s request to Einstein, one of the 20th century’s greatest scientists. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem is working on the plan with Princeton University Press and the Einstein Papers Project at the California Institute of Technology.

“The work should be, can be, human with drafts, doubts, corrections and rewrites,” the Jerusalem university’s president Menahem Ben-Sasson said.

The expansion, of which 2,000 documents are already available, was funded by Leonard Polonsky, founder, chairman and chief executive of Hansard Global Plc, through the Polonsky Foundation U.K.

Polonsky, who has also funded the digitalization and online adoption of Isaac Newton’s papers with the University of Cambridge, said his practice is to give a six-figure amount every year for three years for such projects. He and the university declined to be more specific about costs.

Polonsky’s motivation to put such collections online stems from his fear that they may disappear in the same way Japanese archives in Nagasaki and Hiroshima disappeared in 1945 and the great library at Alexandria was eradicated in ancient times.

Fragile Documents

“One is aware of the fragility,” Polonsky said of the Einstein project. “All these documents have been threatened by another country, not directly, but by the destruction of Jerusalem. If these original documents are destroyed they are gone. If they are online, they aren’t.”

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei referred to Israel on Feb. 4 as a “cancerous tumor” that will be cut, and added that “if any nation or any group confronts the Zionist regime, we will help.”

Cataloged for posterity is a letter sent to Einstein in May 1938 from Betty Neumann, 15 years after their affair, asking for help to move to the U.S. from Austria.

Einstein stepped in and saved her from Nazi Europe.

Also available online is a letter to the editor published in the Falastin newspaper and written in the aftermath of the 1929 Hebron violence that left 67 Jews dead, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry website. Einstein, in the letter, expressed hope that the Jewish-Arab conflict could be resolved by a council of wise men, made up of four members from each side.

Romantic Beauty

“It’s romantic and it’s beautiful and maybe one day if nothing else works, this is the way to go about it,” said Hanoch Gutfreund, a former president of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and academic head of the Einstein archive.

Peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians fell apart in September 2010 after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declined to extend a 10-month construction freeze in West Bank settlements and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas refused to continue negotiations unless all building stopped.

“This is a coherent picture,” Gutfreund said of the project, “of a personality who is a great scientist but at the same time a human being and a man, who more than anyone else in the first half of the 20th century expressed his views on everything on the agenda of mankind. Now we have a very complete and full picture of that person.”

Other important documents that have been digitalized and put online include Google-backed projects that created an Internet archive for the Dead Sea Scrolls and a search function for photos from Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum.


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