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Harvard: Albert Einstein’s Disappointment

Harvard University’s websites proudly point to the fact that it awarded Albert Einstein an honorary SD degree in 1935. The university is making use of its honorary degree to Einstein even though as is well-known, the school at the time and for over a decade afterwards refused to hire Jews. However Einstein’s willingness to be used by Harvard is still something of a mystery on the 70th anniversary of his receiving the honor.

Donald Menzel (left) with Albert Einstein in 1935, when Einstein visited Harvard Observatory on the occasion of receiving an honorary degree from Harvard University. By then a world famous figure, Einstein arrived in the United States in 1933 to take a position at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study, not Princeton University as so many people believe. The Institute had just been created and funded by wealthy Jewish businessmen for the express purpose of saving brilliant Jewish intellectuals such as Einstein from the ravages of Nazism. It is curious that when there were so many excellent universities in America, there was a need to create the institute to gather in these refugees. Schools such as Harvard, Princeton, and Yale were totally Judenfrei in their faculty ranks; they hired no Jews till the late 1940s.

There are recent official Harvard postings alluding to the award ceremony. In connection with a May 11, 2001, Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics centennial symposium to honor astrophysicist Donald H. Menzel in Cambridge, MA, the following photo and annotation was offered. 1

The fact that historically Harvard would not hire Jewish faculty is known.2 The fact that there was no turning point in that practice until the end of WWII is also well documented.3 It is also well established that during the years surrounding 1935, Harvard’s student body and The Crimson, its paper, were sympathetic to the events taking place in Nazi Germany.4 According to historian Stephen H. Norwood, 5 Harvard University President James Bryant Conant's insistence on treating Nazi academics as part of the “learned world, and his reluctance to offer faculty positions to prominent Jewish refugee scholars, was shaped in part by his own anti-Semitic prejudices.” In 1936, Harvard sent an official representative to celebrations at the University of Heidelberg which, like all German universities at that time, had expelled all its Jewish professors and changed its curriculum to reflect Nazi ideology. Harvard also cultivated friendly ties with another Nazi German university, Gottingen.6 When the DuPont Corporation sought President Conant’s advice about hiring a German-Jewish scientist who had fled the Nazis, Conant recommended against offering him a job because he was "very definitely of the Jewish type—very heavy." The scientist they rejected, Max Bergmann, was described by the New York Times as “one of the leading organic chemists in the world.” 7

Einstein’s concern for Jewish causes dates back to at least 1923 when he became the honorary president of a worldwide Jewish relief organization headquartered in Paris.8 There is no doubt that Einstein was indefatigable in trying to place German scientists with Jewish roots at America’s universities starting in 1932, before the formal Nazi takeover of Germany. Harvard would hire none of them. On March 25 1933, while still at an address in Le Coq-sur-mer bei Ostende, Villa Savoyarde, Belgium, Albert Einstein wrote to mathematician Frl. [Miss] Dr. Hilda Geiringer.

I am formulating a plan to try to establish a university for refugees, i.e., exiled German Jewish docents and students. You have already seen this idea in my letter to Mr. Heller. This plan would only work if sufficient numbers of prominent educators are willing to try to make this idea a reality. Since I am estranged from Germany, it would be difficult for me to make contact with the appropriate people. Would you and Herr [applied mathematician Richard von] Mises be interested in this proposition? If so, you have the opportunity to make contact with the appropriate people so that a prognosis for this plan could be made.

Concerned about directly contacting Hilda Geiringer with this information since she was still in Nazi Germany, Einstein sent this letter to a Vienna address. The go-between was Dr. Ernst Geiringer, Hilda’s brother, who replied to Einstein using a commercial letterhead on May 2, 1933, that the letter had arrived and that he had “carefully sent it to her. When I receive a reply from her, I will take the responsibility of sending it on to you. I would appreciate it if you would send all subsequent correspondence also to this address and not to Berlin.” 9

Einstein could not fathom the world’s lack of interest as Hitler rose to power and began his purges, as he began the construction of concentration camps, and continued building the German military machine.

I cannot understand the passive response of the whole civilized world to this modern barbarism. Doesn’t the world see that Hitler is aiming for war?
[October 1 1933; quoted by a reporter for Bunte Welt (Vienna) quoted in Pais, Einstein Lived Here, p 194 .]

Nor did his outspoken position pertaining to former university colleagues who remained in Germany and became party to the Nazification of its university’s.

The conduct of the German intellectuals – seen as a group – was no better than that of the mob. [Albert Einstein, January 28, 1949, Letter to Otto Hahn. Hebrew University Einstein Archive 12-072.]

Why then would Einstein who knew not only of Harvard’s biased hiring practices but also of President Conant’s anti-Semitic attitudes accept an honorary degree from him?10 Possibly because “The essence of Einstein's political practice seems to have been aform of political participation in exerting moral influence on people and organizations through public declarations and appeals.11 Einstein continued working in that regard for years thereafter. Imagine, then, the disappointment, disillusionment, and hurt, when the hiring practices remained unchanged.

A May 2, 1936, letter to philosopher cum mathematician Hans Reichenbach, a colleague who was still exiled in Istanbul, will attest12 that Einstein was well aware of the anti-Semitism in hiring at many of the premiere Ivy League institutions including the one in Princeton. That letter was a response to an April 12, 1936, Reichenbach inquiry 13 about employment possibilities at Princeton University. Einstein cited personal experience of philosopher Rudolf Carnap, a mutual friend from their Vienna and Berlin Circle days14 : “Carnap told me the other day he was told explicitly that they did not want to hire Jews at Princeton. The Einstein letter goes on to say: “Thus even here not everything is gold, and who knows how it will be here tomorrow. Maybe the ‘barbarians’ are after all, the better people.”

Reichenbach was not the only luminary who had no chance at Harvard. On September 25 1941, George Chase, “the Dean of the University,” wrote to Nobel Laureate Linus Pauling in behalf of Harvard’s “President Conant, “it would be helpful if you would send us your estimate of Professor [Felix] Haurowitz’s standing and whether you have any suggestions about possibilities in this country.”15 To which, on October 12 1941, Pauling replied, “I have been greatly interested in his work for a number of years. In my opinion, he is one of the leading men in the world in the field of the chemistry of proteins. His researches are characterized by imagination and good execution. His work on hemoglobin and on problems of immunology has been especially successful. I do not know at present of any opening for Professor Haurowitz in this country.”16 Although he had had his son baptized at birth, Haurowitz himself never converted. Harvard did not make an offer. 17 Since Harvard observes an eighty-year restriction on access to personnel records, 18 it will be some time before the reasons for the refusal will be discovered.

What was Einstein’s response to the unchanging attitudes of America’s academe? Interestingly, the Einstein archives contain no notes about Harvard’s 1935 commencement. There are no copies in the archives of newspaper articles of the day that reported on this event. The certificate itself was never before been digitized nor posted. According to Einstein official curator Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Barbara Wolf, it was hidden in a file marked "Protzenecke" (Pretences) along with honoraria from less well known institutions. 19

There is not a copy of the Harvard Crimson of June 20, 1935, which carried the banner headline HONORARY DEGREES TO BE AWARDED THIS MORNING. The article specifically headlined “ALBERT EINSTEIN” as one of the recipients 20 After the fact, the Harvard Alumni Bulletin of July 5, 1935 reinforced the above with:

In 1935 Albert Einstein received a new honorary doctorate, this time by the most traditional and most important university of the USA, the Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It was Thursday, June 20, 1935 when he was awarded the Doctor of Science in a ceremony. The president of the university, J.B. Conant, said in a speech about Einstein: "…Acclaimed by the world as a great revolutionist of theoretical physics, his bold speculations, now become basis doctrine, will be remembered when mankind`s present troubles are long forgotten…"(emphasis added)21

Nowhere in the archives is there a copy of the June 1935 Commencement Program. Yet Harvard’s websites continue to use that event as a promotional tool. According to Ms Wolf, Einstein did not have any of his honorary degrees hanging on his walls except for one. That was from the Bernese Naturforschende Gesellschaft. 22 Ms Wolf suggested that it was there so that Einstein could tell his secretary and others “of the deceitfulness of the people who issued honorific certificates.” 23 Albert Einstein’s honorary degree certificate from a most prestigious had been tucked away, never displayed. Perhaps it was too painful a reminder of President Conant’s duplicitous, self serving behavior. The 70th anniversary of the ceremony at which Albert Einstein was awarded Harvard’s honorary SD, came and went without much fanfare or acknowledgement.

1http://cfa-www.harvard.edu . Viewed on November 19, 2006

2 Judah Monis had to become a Christian, and several times thereafter to declare the sincerity of his conversion, prior to receiving his appointment as instructor of Hebrew at Harvard, in the 1720s. Jewish Virtual Library. Viewed October 26, 2005.

3 A. Reisman, Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision (Washington, DC: New Academia Publishers, 2006): 215-219, 312, 315, 330, 355, 503, .

4 Andrew Schlesinger, “The real story of Nazi's Harvard visit” The Boston Globe. November 18, 2004. Viewed November 17, 2006. Also, Stephen H. Norwood, “Harvard's Nazi Ties” October 26 2005. The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies.Viewed January 5 2006.

5S.H. Norwood, "Legitimating Nazism: Harvard University and the Hitler Regime, 1933-1937" American Jewish History : 92, 2, June 2004, pp. 189-223

6http://www.wymaninstitute.org. Viewed on October 27 2005.

7Max Bergmann, …..formerly director of the Kaiser-Wilhelm Institute for Leather Research, joined the Rockefeller Institute in 1933; he was one of many German scientists of the intellectual migration. A protégé of Emil Fischer, Bergmann had developed in Germany a leading center for protein chemistry, attracting students from around the world. His successful career continued in his new homeland, which he considered "the best country on the globe" (Felix Haurowitz file, July 8 1943). His research program, which focused on the action of proteolytic enzymes on synthetic peptides and on the problem of protein structure, aimed at explaining the biological specificity of proteins. As determinants of specificity, proteins were then generally regarded as the active hereditary material in the chromosomes; Bergmann's investigations were also intended to account for this genetic specificity. The Bergmann Papers—letters, reports, addresses, and lectures— are therefore important not only for the history of biochemistry, but also for the history of molecular genetics. The correspondence shows Bergmann to be a central figure within the international network of protein chemists, and instrumental in helping other émigré biochemists in the 1930s. (emphasis added) <http://www.amphilsoc.org/library/guides/kay/Primary.htm>. Viewed on October 27 2005.

8 See A. Reisman, “What a Freshly Discovered Einstein Letter Says About Turkey Today” HNN.For a clearer image of the letter see http://armenians-1915.blogspot.com/. Posted November 27, 2006.

9 Albert Einstein Archives Princeton University, Document No. 53 610

10 The June 20, 1935, Boston Evening Transcript carried a front page article titled “Einstein and Thomas Mann Hailed at Harvard Exercises: Two German Exiles ‘Steal’ Commencement.” Shown next to the article was a group photo with Einstein and Conant center stage front row.

11 H. Goenner, “Albert Einstein and Friedrich Dessauer: Political Views and Political Practice” Physics in Perspective: 5,1 (2003) 21-66

12 Albert Einstein Archives Princeton University, Document No. 20-107 1and 2. Reprinted in Reisman, Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision p. 332.

13 Albert Einstein Archives Princeton University, Document No. 20-118

14 See Reisman, Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision pp 4,5, 213, 228, 320, 483.

15 Courtesy The Ava Helen and Linus Pauling Papers archive at Oregon State UniversityFor a greater discussion of this see, Reisman, Turkey's Modernization: Refugees from Nazism and Atatürk's Vision. 200, 241 ,269, 315, 365, 468, and 516

16 Ibid.

17 According to “Administrators Lent Harvard's Prestige to Nazis, Historian Says” an article in the Chronicle of Higher Educationby SCOTT MCLEMEE in the November 26 2004 issue:

The administration of Harvard University welcomed officials of the German government to the university's campus during the 1930s. It also sent representatives to attend festivities at German universities undergoing "Nazification," giving the regime a much-needed aura of legitimacy. So the record shows, according to Stephen H. Norwood, a professor of history at the University of Oklahoma, who presented his findings at a conference at Boston University. "I can give example after example after example" of the Ivy League institution's "indifference to anti-Semitic violence in Germany at the time," said Mr. Norwood. [Emphasis added. Viewed October 26 2005.]

18 By letter of November 3 2005, Lawrence H. Summers, President of Harvard University, justified the university archivist’s refusal to supply information from the Haurowitz employment application files: “I appreciate your interest in Harvard’s history and I am sorry that we cannot be of assistance to you. My colleague in the archives department stated our policy accurately with regard to releasing information.”

19 Personal communication, November 21, 2006

20http://www.thecrimson.com. Viewed on November 19, 2006

21http://www.einstein-website, Viewed on November 21, 2006

22 Personal communication, November 22, 2006

23 A note that Helen Dukas left. That note is part of her (informal & private) correspondence with Otto Nathan, a “jungle of unordered papers.” Personal communication, November 22, 2006