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EINSTEIN, ALBERT (1879-1955).

Theoretical physicist. The most outstanding physicist of modern times, Albert Einstein was almost as revered for his honesty, humility, and humanitarianism as for his theories about the nature of the universe. Born in Ulm, Germany, he received his scientific education in Switzerland, where he was naturalized in 1901. While working at the Patent Office in Berne, he prepared four scientific papers that gained him international acclaim before he was 26. In the years that followed, Einstein lectured and taught in Prague, Zurich, Leyden, and Berlin. In 1916, he published his famous general theory of relativity, which has been described as “the greatest intellectual revolution since Newton”; six years later he was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on photoelectric effects. With the rise of Hitler to power in 1933, he left Berlin, where he had held a distinguished position since 1914, and settled in the U.S. From 1933 until his death in 1955, he served as professor of theoretical physics at Princeton’s Institute of Advanced Studies.

In 1939, Einstein called the attention of President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the possibilities of atomic warfare; his own theories played a crucial part in unbinding the energies of the atom. It was, in fact, the great irony of Einstein’s life that his work for the advancement of human understanding of the world had also advanced human capacity for deadly warfare. Having experienced antisemitism early in life and realizing the evils of Prussian militarism, Einstein had early become a crusader for peace and harmony in human relations. He did not hesitate to speak out against injustice. After World War I, he headed the International Committee for Intellectual Cooperation of the League of Nations, withdrawing in protest against the League’s failure to take strong measures against Italian Fascism. As the clouds of Nazism gathered over Germany, Einstein spoke out against antisemitism and the Nazi threat to intellectual freedom. In the U. S., too, Einstein was an outspoken defender of freedom of thought. To the end, he advocated international cooperation, and even world government, in the hope that the human race might learn to live in peace. He devoted much energy during the last decade of his life to making the world aware of the great dangers threatening it, as the result of his own work in discovering the destructive potential of atomic power.

Einstein was never a practicing Jew. From the 1920’s onward, however, he expressed his devotion to his people by dedicating considerable effort to Zionism and especially to the development of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. He first visited the U.S. in 1921 on a tour with Chaim Weizmann on behalf of the university, and sat on its board of governors until his death. After the death of Weizmann, Einstein was proposed as a candidate for the presidency of the State of Israel; Einstein refused on the ground that he was not qualified to fill the position.

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