2 2 4 T H E J E W I S H QU E S T IO N
up a manifesto for use in the preparation of a Jewish Congress. Though he declared his
intention to attend, it is not certain that the Congress was ever
What is also unclear,
unfortunately, is the prehistory of this, Einstein’s first known interaction with organized
Though Einstein expressed some affinity with the pacifist position on a number of occa-
sions, he advanced his political commitments only sparingly during the First World War.
As to his interest in Zionism, Einstein characterized the years before coming to Berlin as
having been lived “in completely neutral
It was the dream of an interna-
tional Jewish center of higher learning that first fired Einstein’s political imagination and
crystallized a resolve to act publicly to implement its creation. This concrete goal also
provided the resolution to a dilemma that Jews in Germany faced in the postwar period:
how to choose between national (German) and religious-communal (Jewish) identities,
between assimilation and
The received tradition has it that a prominent
Zionist “converted” Einstein, if not to Zionism, then to “become aware of the Jewish
The anecdotal account of the roots of Einstein’s Jewish concerns is fully compat-
ible with and complementary to an attempt to find the origins in a more historical context.
Two related developments enabled Einstein to act more effectively to promote his new
commitment. The first, in late 1919, was the generally triumphant international reception
accorded his work on general relativity, the other was his personal recognition that fame
granted him virtually unlimited public capital to speak out to an international audience on
the issue of a Jewish university, as well as on other political topics.
Before arriving at a considered position on the Jewish Question, however, he initially
had to grapple with the ferocity of postwar German anti-Semitism. His first political text
(Einstein 1919h [Doc. 29]) was a defense of the most vulnerable members of the Jewish
community—those from Eastern Europe (Ostjuden)—against the growing tide of anti-
Semitic responses in Germany to economic and political
Einstein’s tentative-
ness on this issue is reflected in the fact that he based this writing on an article with the
identical title (“Immigration from the East”) that had appeared a week earlier in the same
[14]Zionist Association of Germany to Einstein, 9 December 1918 and 12 December 1918 (Vol. 8,
Docs. 666 and 671).
[15]“I only came to Zionism after my move to Berlin in 1914 at the age of 35, after I had lived be-
fore in completely neutral surroundings” (“Zum Zionismus kam ich erst nach meiner Uebersiedlung
nach Berlin im Jahre 1914 mit 35 Jahren, nachdem ich vorher in einer gänzlich neutralen Umgebung
gelebt hatte.” Einstein to Heinrich York-Steiner, 19 November 1929).
[16]The latter term, and its juxtaposition to assimilation, is explored in some detail in Volkov 1985.
[17]“mir die jüdische Seele zu Bewusstsein zu bringen”; Einstein to Kurt Blumenfeld, 25 March
[18]The range of anti-Semitic venom leveled at East European Jews after the war is discussed in
detail in Maurer 1986, pp. 104–190.
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