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New letters shed light on Einstein’s love life

Albert Einstein had half a dozen girlfriends and told his wife they showered him with "unwanted" affection, according to letters released on Monday that shed light on his extra-marital affairs.
/ Source: news services

Albert Einstein had half a dozen girlfriends and told his wife they showered him with "unwanted" affection, according to letters released on Monday that shed light on his extramarital affairs.

The wild-haired Jewish-German scientist, renowned for his theory of relativity, spent little time at home. He lectured in Europe and in the United States, where he died in 1955 at age 76. But Einstein wrote hundreds of letters to his family.

Previously released letters suggested his marriage in 1903 to his first wife Mileva Maric, mother of his two sons, was miserable. They divorced in 1919, and he soon married his cousin, Elsa. He cheated on her with his secretary, Betty Neumann.

In the new volume of letters released on Monday by Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Einstein described about six women with whom he spent time and from whom he received gifts while being married to Elsa.

In the early 1980s, Elsa's daughter, Margot, gave almost 1,400 letters to Hebrew University, which Einstein helped found. But Margot directed that the letters not be released publicly until 20 years after her death. She died on July 8, 1986.

Some of the women identified by Einstein include Estella, Ethel, Toni and his "Russian spy lover," Margarita. Others are referred to only by initials, like M. and L.

"It is true that M. followed me (to England) and her chasing after me is getting out of control," he wrote in a letter to Margot in 1931. "Out of all the dames, I am in fact attached only to Mrs. L., who is absolutely harmless and decent."

In another post to Margot, Einstein asked his stepdaughter to pass on "a little letter for Margarita, to avoid providing curious eyes with tidbits."

Barbara Wolff of the Hebrew University’s Albert Einstein Archives said that the persistent M. was Berlin socialite Ethel Michanowski, who was involved with Einstein in the late 1920s and early ’30s. Wolff described their relationship as an affair, but she disclosed little else about Michanowski, other than that she was about 15 years younger than Einstein and was friendly with his stepdaughters.

The new batch of letters for the first time included replies from Einstein's family, said Hanoch Gutfreund, chairman of the Albert Einstein Worldwide Exhibition at Hebrew University. This, he told reporters, helped shatter myths that the Nobel Prize-winning scientist was always cold toward his family.

"In these letters he acts with much greater friendship and understanding to Mileva and his sons," Gutfreund said.

Gutfreund said that though Einstein's later marriage to Elsa was best described as a "marriage of convenience," he wrote to her almost every day, describing, among other things, his experiences touring and lecturing in Europe.

"Soon I'll be fed up with the (theory of) relativity," Einstein wrote in a postcard to Elsa in 1921. "Even such a thing fades away when one is too involved with it."

Einstein lived and studied in the 1930s at Oxford, where he hid from the Nazis.

A German colleague, he said in a letter to Elsa, had told him "to not even come near the German border because the rage against me is out of control."

In the same letter, which he wrote in 1933, less than a decade before the start of World War II and the Nazi Holocaust, Einstein writes: "One fears everywhere the competition of the expelled 'brainy' Jews. We are even more burdened by our strength than by our weakness."

The main outlines of Einstein's professional and personal life have been long known through biographies and previously released letters. But by filling in some of the gaps in correspondence, the newly released documents have “added colors to the image we had of Einstein before,” Wolff said.

“Now we have a high-resolution picture,” she said.

The letters also provide the full story of Einstein’s prize money for the 1921 Nobel Prize in physics. Under the terms of his divorce from Mileva Maric, the entire sum was have been deposited in a Swiss bank account, and Maric was to draw on the interest for herself and the couple’s two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard.

It has been known for some time that there was a problem with Einstein’s discharge of the agreement, but the details weren’t clear. The new correspondence shows he invested most of it in the U.S., where he settled after being driven out of Germany, and much of it was lost in the Great Depression.

This caused great friction with Maric, who felt betrayed because he didn’t deposit the entire sum as agreed, and repeatedly had to ask him for money, Wolff said.

Ultimately, he paid her more money than he received with the prize, she added. The prize was worth about $28,000 in 1921 dollars, a sum that would be worth 10 times that amount in today’s dollars.

This report includes information from Reuters and The Associated Press.