Personal side of famed scientist revealed

USA Today

Poughkeepsie, New York:

Albert Einstein wore fuzzy slippers. And he once co-signed a petition that called for the outlawing of nuclear weapons with former US vice president Henry A Wallace. A private collection of more than 150 letters, photographs, manuscripts and inscribed books recently acquired by Vassar College sheds new light onto the personal side of the most renowned scientist of the 20th century. The letters document more than two decades of personal correspondence between Einstein and former Vassar College economics professor Otto Nathan, one of Einstein’s closest friends and the executor of his estate. The collection, which has never been seen by the public, was given to Vassar last fall by graduate Adele Gabel Bergreen of New York City. She and her late husband, Morris Bergreen, had received the collection from Nathan, a former teacher and friend of Adele Bergreen. Nathan died in 1987. The collection includes a letter from Sigmund Freud to Einstein and letters from Einstein’s second wife, Elsa, to Nathan.

A special exhibition, along with a detailed report on the collection, is planned for January 2005. While many colleges have a single Einstein letter, it’s rare for a college to have such a variety of items covering so many years, said Ron Patkus, head of archives and special collections at the Vassar College library. Much of Einstein’s work is housed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and Princeton University. While there is a certain formality to some of his letters, many are what one would expect between friends: a postcard from Einstein during his trip to Bermuda, a few thoughts to Nathan hastily written on a scrap of paper with ragged edges.

Some are typed; others are written in neat, even script on plain, white paper. They are signed “A Einstein”, or simply “A E” Most are written in German and contain Einstein’s views on — from nuclear weapons to fate of Jews in Europe. In one letter written in July 1936, Einstein says, “The developments in Europe are unspeakably horrible. The Lord God appears to have appointed the devil to be the chief clerk of it. The fascist danger here also seems to be on the move.”

An anti-nuclear petition shows just two names, Einstein’s and that of Wallace, Franklin D Roosevelt’s vice president from 1941-45 and, later, a leading critic of the Truman Doctrine and Cold War containment policies. Sigmund Freud, writing in response to a letter from Einstein in 1936, says he hopes Einstein will become “a disciple” when he gets to be Freud’s age. “I always knew that you were only in awe of me out of politeness,” Freud wrote.

Other parts of the collection show black-and-white photographs of a bespectacled Einstein with flyaway hair, an Einstein who frequently wore dark sweatshirts and a pen clipped to his collar. In one undated photograph, Einstein sits on the front porch steps, hands clasped around his knees, a grandiose pair of fuzzy slippers on his feet. The college knows little about the photographs of Einstein and Nathan walking together in a garden — when they were taken or where. In a 1947 letter, Einstein writes in English, describing Nathan as “one of the most honest seekers for truth I ever met personally.”A wide range of people from historians to political scientists should be interested in the collection.