D O C . 3 3 U P R O A R I N T H E L E C T U R E H A L L 2 8 7
Published in 8-Uhr Abendblatt (Berlin), 13 February 1920, pp. [2–3].
[1]Only registered students, auditors, and docents of the University of Berlin had the right to attend
so-called Privatvorlesungen. Though the university catalog does not characterize Einstein’s lectures
as such, it is only because no details were yet available when the catalog was published in 1919 (see
Berlin Verzeichnis 1920, p. 121). The fact that he acknowledged that many individuals who attended
were not entitled to do so indicates, however, that the lectures were restricted.
Einstein had no teaching obligations in Berlin (see Einstein to Paul Ehrenfest, second half of
November 1913 [Vol. 5, Doc. 484]), but had offered technical lectures on relativity the previous two
semesters (see Docs. 12 and 19). The winter semester 1920 began on 5 January (see Berlin Verzeich-
nis 1920, title page), though Einstein’s first Thursday evening lecture in the Auditorium Maximum
was probably held on 5 February, a week before the events under discussion (see Berliner Tageblatt,
14 February 1920, Morning Edition, p. [2], and Vossische Zeitung, 14 February 1920, Morning
Edition, p. [2]).
[2]In a meeting on 11 February with university officials and with Einstein present, the student coun-
cil protested his open admission policy. Einstein remained unpersuaded, and the student group lodged
a formal protest with Rector Eduard Meyer the following day. As Meyer noted in the letter cited, he
had no choice but to “uphold the existing statutes” (“Aufrechterhaltung der bestehenden Ordnungen”;
Eduard Meyer to Einstein, 12 February 1920).
[3]A year earlier at the University of Zurich, Einstein had resisted an identical attempt to restrict
his audience. While offering a cycle of lectures on relativity there in January 1919 (see Auszug aus
dem Protokoll des Erziehungsrates, Canton of Zurich, 9 January 1919, SzZU, ABF Einstein, Lehr-
aufträge 1918–1919), Einstein insisted that the university custodian (Pedell), who was barring entry
at the door of the lecture hall to unregistered students and to the general public, leave his post. The
rector formally rebuked Einstein for this the following day, reminding him of the need to exclude the
merely curious (see Rector Theodor Vetter to Einstein, 28 January 1919).
[4]After Einstein threw the lecture open to a discussion on 12 February, an exchange ensued with
more than 1500 persons in attendance (see Tägliche Rundschau, 14 February 1920, Morning Edition,
p. [6]). Einstein is reported to have described the “student council” (“studentische[r] Ausschuss”) in
a play on words as “refuse of humankind” (“Ausschuss der Menschheit”). In turn, the student council
regretted any of its members’ remarks that may have proved offensive (see Eduard Meyer to Einstein,
13 February 1920).
An official report of the evening saw it differently. Basing its statement on the account of a student
participant, the Ministry of Education pointed out that Einstein had been greeted with stormy
applause, which rose afresh when Einstein announced that he intended to return lecture fees
(Kollegiengelder) to the students and make the series public. In an orderly vote, every member of the
audience but ten accepted a proposal to petition the rectorate to welcome the public. Einstein then left
the hall, accompanied by general applause. In its commentary, the newspaper did qualify the student’s
account by admitting that certain individuals had shown a lack of respect (see Berliner Tageblatt, 14
February 1920, Morning Edition, p. [2]). This is confirmed by another student, who referred to the
“tactlessness of the audience” (“Taktlosigkeit des Auditoriums”) but stressed that catcalls centered
around the issue of having fees returned (see Hans Cohn to Einstein, 12 February 1920).
[5]The rector relented after meeting with Einstein at the Prussian Academy the day of the lecture.
Where before he had insisted on adhering to the conditions for a Privatvorlesung, Eduard Meyer now
acceded to a proposal by the student council, which essentially accepted Einstein’s view that the lec-
tures be open to all (see Eduard Meyer to Einstein, 13 February 1920).
[6]In contrast to Einstein’s view that there was no overt anti-Semitism, the introduction to this text
in the 8-Uhr Abendblatt argues that the anti-Semitic tenor of the student protest was explicit. Ironi-
cally, both left- and right-wing press coverage reinforced an argument for the centrality of anti-Jewish
motives. One ultranationalist newspaper stressed the “predominantly Asiatic character” (“vorwiegend
asiatisches Gepräge”) of the audience, by which it meant East European Jews (see Deutsche Zeitung,
17 February 1920, p. [5]). A socialist paper, on the other hand, characterized the disruptions as caused
by the “anti-Semitic student mob against Einstein” (“Antisemitischer Studentenpöbel gegen
Einstein”; Vorwärts, 19 February 1920, Evening Edition, p. [2]).
Rector Meyer stoutly denied that the incident revolved around the question of anti-Semitism (see
Previous Page Next Page