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March 28, 1933
Albert Einstein German, Swiss and American?
“By an application of the theory of relativity to the taste of readers, today in Germany I am called a German man of science, and in England I am represented as a Swiss Jew. If I come to be represented as a bête noire , the descriptions will be reversed and I shall become a Swiss Jew for the Germans and a German man of science for the English.”
From an essay on the Theory of Relativity, November 1919
As a son of a citizen of the Kingdom of Württemberg, Albert Einstein, born in Ulm in 1879, was a citizen of the German Empire by birth.
Ulm, March 15, 1879
In 1894, the electrical engineering firm, J. Einstein & Co., located in Munich since 1880, turns bankrupt and Albert’s parents move to Italy.
A few months later, the 16-year-old Albert follows his parents. He does not wish to return to Germany. However, he would have been accused of desertion if he had not reported for conscription by the age of 17. Therefore, he renounces his German citizenship and is exempt as of January 1896.
“Die mit Bericht vom 23. d. Mts. vorgelegten Acten, betreffend den Antrag des Kaufmanns Hermann Einstein in Pavia auf Entlassung seines Sohnes Albert Einstein aus der Württ. Staatsangehörigkeit…“
Release from German citizenship, January 28, 1896.
Albert’s political views coincide with the spirit of the Swiss democratic constitution.
In 1899, still a student in Zurich, he applies for a Swiss citizenship.
Two years later
Two years later, once Einstein’s „as far as it is known, … unblemished reputation” has been attested by the police and he paid the legal fee of 600 Swiss francs, the “zealous, diligent und highly respectable” young man is naturalized as a Swiss citizen.
“To Mr. Albert Einstein, mathematician, of Ulm, Württemberg … the citizenship of the Canton of Zürich … is granted upon condition that within a month he provides proof of the payment of the admittance taxes in the sum of 400 Francs (community) and 200 Francs (canton) …”
From the minutes of the governing council, February 7, 1901
Early in 1911
Early in 1911, Einstein is appointed at the German University of Prague. Such an appointment is “contingent on the acquisition of Austrian citizenship” and thus, Einstein is requested to “take, without delay, the necessary steps to obtain the release from [his] present citizenship”.
However, while it is confirmed that, with a delay of one semester and dressed in a most picturesque uniform, Einstein took the solemn oath of office, the process of naturalization is not finalized before Einstein leaves Prague for Zurich in 1912.
Thus he remains a Swiss citizen and never became a subject of the Austrian Empire.
Einstein‘s appointment at his alma mater, the „Eidgenössische Polytechnikum“ in Zurich, now renamed « Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule», was basically a cameo.
Already in spring of 1913 two colleagues arrive from Berlin to recruit the promising young scientist for the Prussian Academy of Sciences. Their offer is too tempting for Einstein to ignore.
But he attaches a condition to his consent: he demands to keep his Swiss citizenship.
For the time being, there is no reason to doubt that the German Emperor had complied with Einstein’s request.
When, soon after his move to Berlin, war breaks out, Einstein, though still of draft age, is not conscripted.
To his friend Paul Ehrenfest, August 19, 1914:
“…I am musing serenely along in my peaceful meditations and feel only a mixture of pity and disgust.”
official documents indicate
Repeatedly, official documents indicate that Einstein is a Swiss citizen. That is the case, for example, in the correspondence leading to Einstein’s election as a member of the board of trustees of the Physikalisch-Technische Reichsanstalt in 1916; and it is the case as well, when the registry office complains to Einstein’s employer, the Academy of Sciences, about this foreigner who does not unregister as required whenever he travels.
“The Swiss citizen, Dr. Albert Einstein, … repeatedly took trips without notifying the police…”
The Registry Office to the Academy of Sciences,
March 8, 1916
Einstein has good reason to believe…
Einstein has good reason to believe that indeed nothing has changed with his national affiliation and that his “engagement is of a thoroughly unique nature and does not fall under any government-position category”.
Time and time again, he, also, stresses that he is a Swiss citizen. His alien status is not only respected during these years, but it is in fact welcomed as a justification for not withdrawing the physicist from his research.
Einstein is expected to enhance Germany’s prestige, its glory, and so he does.
Here appears a picture of the famous guest-lecturer from the east of the Rhine on the title page of the April 1st, 1922 issue of the French magazine L’ILLUSTRATION.
All those years
All those years, Einstein travels on his Swiss passport, he pays the military service exemption tax to the Swiss Army, and, like every foreigner, is obliged to renew his residence permit in Germany on a regular basis.
In April 1922, in order to limit the repeated correspondence and the related costs, the German Foreign Office suggests that the Swiss Embassy would apply for a permanent visa on behalf of Einstein.
“…since in view of the frequent trips Prof Einstein undertakes for the benefit of Science, it would bring him considerable relief and save money…”
Einstein’s secretary, Ilse Einstein, to the Swiss Embassy, 21.4.1922.
Even in the eyes of the German authorities, this „German professor“, now often on the road and re-establishing contact with his colleagues in countries that were until recently considered „enemy territory“, is undoubtedly a Swiss citizen.
In a letter to his superiors
In a letter to his superiors, the German ambassador, Constantin von Neurath, quotes from a Copenhagen newspaper: „Although a Swiss subject by birth and supposedly of Jewish origin, Einstein’s work is nevertheless an integral part of German research“.
Von Neurath uses this flawed statement with good reason: The Swiss Jew whom he would rather disregard, unfortunately proves to be one of the few “Germans” welcome abroad.
On April 26, 1920, for example, Albert Einstein was nominated member of the Royal Danish Academy of Sciences and Letters.
The more appreciated Einstein
The more appreciated Einstein becomes abroad, the greater Germany’s desire to claim him as one of their own.
In March 1922, about three years after the defeat in WWI, the Foreign Office creates a file labeled „Professor Einstein’s lectures abroad“ , in order to document the extent to which Einstein contributes to the rehabilitation of Germany’s reputation, at least in the realm of the sciences.
This happens just in time to record Einstein’s trip
This happens just in time to record Einstein’s trip to Paris, which represents an important breakthrough in the postwar rapprochement between the German and French scientific communities.
Yet while the newspapers report “This German conquered Paris”, Einstein himself, travelling on his Swiss passport, to the disappointment of the German officials, does not show any inclination to act as a representative of the German government.