Objects of the Month

October 2014: Note from Albert Einstein to Washington, D.C. lawyer, 1938

Note from Albert Einstein to Washington, D.C. lawyer, 1938
  • Accession No.: 2012.21
  • Donor: Andrew Ammerman
  • Description:

    Typed note in German, Albert Einstein to H. Max Ammerman, March 1938.

    Translation:

    26 March 1938

    A. Einstein
    112 Mercer Street
    Princeton, New Jersey, U.S.

    Dear Mr. Ammerman:

    Mr. Fritz Moses told me that you have kindly agreed to assist me with my small assistance effort.

    Thank you and best regards.

    Yours,

    Albert Einstein

In October 1933, Albert Einstein permanently settled in the United States where he accepted a position at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. The rise of the Nazi Party to power in Germany earlier that year, and its subsequent exclusion of Jews from universities, led Einstein to renounce his German citizenship.

Even before settling in the U.S., Einstein began a tireless campaign to assist Jews and other "enemies" of the Nazi government find positions in universities in Great Britain and outside of Europe. He was part of an international network that raised money and advocated with government bureaucrats to obtain visas for refugee academics, as well as family and friends.

In this brief message on his personal, embossed stationery, Einstein thanks Washington attorney H. Max Ammerman for helping with a "small assistance effort." Ammerman worked in the law office of Louis Ottenberg, who facilitated immigrant proceedings for many Jewish refugees.

Searching through the catalog records of the Einstein Archives of Hebrew University provided a clue to Einstein' reference to a "small assistance matter." Companion correspondence in the University archives reveals Einstein's concern for Margarete "Grete" Lebach.

Albert Einstein sailing with Grete Lebach, Huntington, New York, 1937

Albert Einstein Collection, Leo Baeck Institute.

Lebach and Einstein were close acquaintances from his time in Berlin. She was a frequent visitor to his cabin in the countryside until Einstein emigrated from Germany in 1933. Lebach appears with Einstein in this photograph taken in 1937 in Huntington, New York by famed portraitist Lotte Jacobi.

At the time Einstein wrote this letter in March 1938, Lebach was in Vienna suffering from cancer and in dire need of surgery. Perhaps because of her relationship with Einstein, Nazi authorities denied Lebach the surgery. If the "small assistance effort" was to help Lebach, then it was unsuccessful. Lebach died in Vienna in August 1938.