Brilliant Idea: More Than 80,000 Of Einstein's Documents Going Online

Mar 19, 2012
Originally published on March 20, 2012 12:04 am

More than 80,000 of Albert Einstein's papers, including his most famous formula — E=mc² — and letters to and from his former mistresses, are going online at Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

As NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro says on All Things Considered, "what the trove uncovers is a picture of complex man who was concerned about the human condition" as well as the mysteries of science.

In one 1929 letter, to the editor of the newspaper Falastin, the Einstein (a Jew) suggested that a council of elders of both Jewish and Arab backgrounds convene to resolve the Jewish-Arab conflict taking place under the British mandate."

Later, one of his former mistresses wrote to him about how terrible it had been living as a Jew under Nazi rule. She asked for help in emigrating to the U.S., and Einstein provided it.

In a statement, Prof. Hanoch Gutfreund, former president of the Hebrew University and the academic head of the Einstein Archive says the site, which is a significant expansion of the university's previous online cache of Einstein records, "is another expression of the Hebrew University's intent to share with the entire cultural world this vast intellectual property which has been deposited into its hand by Einstein himself."

A good place to start with the online material is at this gallery.

Einstein died in 1955, at the age of 76.

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel. And it's time for All Tech Considered.


SIEGEL: The most famous scientific thinker of the 20th century is going online. Albert Einstein's papers, more than 80,000 documents, belong to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. And the university is digitizing and uploading them.

You'll be able to read Einstein's letters on scientific matters and matters more intimate, as NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports from Jerusalem.

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: So, I'm standing over a glass case and inside is a manuscript that shows, in Einstein's own penmanship, one of the most famous equations in the world: E=mc2.

MENACHEM BEN SASSON: Let's have an opportunity to share with the richness of culture and to the future of research all over the world.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The president of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, Menachem Ben Sasson, says high-resolution digital scans will be made of everything in the archive and put on a site that's open to everyone. Up until now, most of Einstein's personal effects here were gathering dust in the university basement, and were only available by request to scholars.

What the trove uncovers is a picture of a complex man who was concerned about the human condition. In one letter to the editor of the newspaper Falestine, Einstein, a Jew, suggested a council of elders of both Jewish and Arab backgrounds convene to resolve the Jewish-Arab conflict, taking place under British mandate.

Menachem Ben Sasson says that Einstein was a man who engaged in the great debates of his day. The archive shows, Ben Sasson says...

SASSON: He is that even a genius should be, could be humane.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Einstein wrote many letters to his family. This went to his mother in 1919, reads in part:

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Reading) Dear Mother, they have written me that you are not only in a lot of pain but you have gloomy thoughts. How I would like to keep you company again, so you are not left to ugly brooding.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: It is signed: Affectionately yours, Einstein.

Einstein was not only a son, he was a lover and he had many mistresses. He is alleged to have said about marriage: It's the unsuccessful attempt to make something last lasting out of an incident.

He was 21 years old older than one of his mistresses. Many years after their affair, she wrote him about her terrible situation living as a Jew under Nazi rule.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: (Reading) Thinking about a time that was 15 years ago, maybe you can help me now. I have lost my livelihood.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: She asks him for help immigrating to America, where he was then living. He provided it and Betty Neuman began a new life in the U.S.

Leonard Polonsky helped fund the preservation of the Einstein trove. He says the online archive will allow both the curious and the scholarly insight into an incredible man.

DR. LEONARD POLONSKY: The fact that he has what might be considered frailties is a wonderful display. It's a wonderful statement that we're all, in our ways, complex. We do things that we're proud of. We do things that we don't think about. We do things we're embarrassed about if they were put on display.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: And Polonsky says they are on display now for anyone with an Internet connection to see.

POLONSKY: I'm not sure what Einstein's reaction would be to the fact that his letters are going to be read. I think the man could handle it.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Jerusalem. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.