2 2 2 T H E J E W I S H QU E S T IO N
its doors in 1925. It is in the form of an interview in a Swiss-Jewish journal and is scarcely
known in the canon of Einstein’s political writings.
Initially fascinated by the rituals of the Jewish faith, in part perhaps because of his parents’
relative indifference to them, Einstein turned to philosophical concerns at the age of
Readings in popular scientific literature shook his faith in the authority of biblical
tales, but even as religious interest waned, an awareness of his “otherness” in school,
coupled with a general disdain for authority, reinforced his private pursuit of intellectual
goals and a retreat from social
In her account of his youth, written in 1924,
Einstein’s sister suggests that his sense of obligation to other Jews had first arisen in
response to the discrimination to which he and other Jews were subject during his school
Switzerland, to which Einstein moved at age sixteen and where he spent almost all
of the next twenty years, proved far more congenial than the Munich of his childhood. The
sense of otherness persisted nevertheless: as the youngest in his class at a Gymnasium in
the small town of Aarau, he was one of only two Jews in the entire school, and a German
During that first year, Einstein made his attitude toward organized religion clear,
officially registering the fact that he was “without religious affiliation.” He reiterated his
stance on taking Swiss citizenship in
By this time, Einstein had already
graduated from the Federal Polytechnic (ETH) in
Neither in Zurich nor in Prague,
[1]Einstein’s parents had a freethinking, nondogmatic view of religion (see Vol. 1, “Albert
Einstein—Beitrag für sein Lebensbild,” p. lix). Einstein’s son-in-law and biographer even claims that
father Hermann “prided himself on the fact that he was a freethinker”; Kayser 1930, p. 28. The son’s
passage from religious observation to skepticism of religious authority is mentioned in Vol. 1, “Albert
Einstein—Beitrag für sein Lebensbild,” p. lx, and is noted in his autobiography, Einstein 1979, pp. 2
and 4.
[2]In Docs. 34, 35, and Einstein 1921i (Doc. 60), Einstein discussed the reciprocal nature of the
relationship between anti-Semitism and a Jewish sense of otherness. On his disdain for authority, see
Einstein 1979, p. 4.
[3]See Vol. 1, “Albert Einstein—Beitrag für sein Lebensbild,” p. lx, and Doc. 34.
[4]The other Jew was his cousin Robert Koch. See Vol. 1, the editorial note, “ETH Entrance Exam-
ination and Aargau Kantonsschule,” p. 12. Einstein alludes to this sense of being an outsider in a letter
to his surrogate mother: “Intense intellectual work and contemplation of divine Nature are the angels
that will guide me through all the turmoil of this life, reconciling and strengthening me, yet with
implacable severity” (“Die angestrengte geistige Arbeit & das Anschauen von Gottes Natur sind die
Engel, welche mich versöhnend, stärkend & doch unerbittlich streng durch alle Wirren dieses Lebens
führen werden.” Einstein to Pauline Winteler, May 1897 [Vol. 1, Doc. 34]).
[5]For his declaration of being “without religious affiliation” (“konfessionslos”), see Release from
Württemberg Citizenship, 28 January 1896 (Vol. 1, Doc. 16), note 1; for his restatement of this fact
in Switzerland, see Questionnaire for Municipal Citizenship Applicants, 11–26 October 1900 (Vol. 1,
Doc. 82).
[6]Claims that he rubbed shoulders there with Zurich’s large East European student community and
that he reveled in its heady political discussions while attending the ETH between 1896 and 1900, as
suggested in Feuer 1989, pp. 4–14, are speculative. Einstein’s friendship with a number of Serbian
students (including his future wife, Mileva Mari ) seems not to have had any political character (see
Trbuhovi -Gjuri 1983, pp. 49–60).
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