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Albert Einstein

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Leaving Germany and World War II

Picture of Einstein with cigar
Einstein after he arrived at Princeton
Source: RMY Auctions
While the early 1920s brought Albert Einstein scientific recognition and fame, a dark cloud began to form over Germany by the end of the decade. The rise of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party meant that Einstein's world would change forever.


One of the major tenets of the Nazi Party was that the Jewish people were the source of many of the social, political, and economic troubles in Germany. By the early 1930s, Einstein had became a popular target for the Nazi Party. Not only was he Jewish, he was vocally against political nationalism and a known pacifist. He stood for everything that the Nazi's hated.

Renouncing Germany and Moving to America

Einstein was visiting the United States when Adolf Hitler became the new chancellor of Germany. Now that the Nazi Party was firmly entrenched as the supreme power in Germany, Einstein wasn't sure he could safely return home. Einstein was returning to Germany on a ship crossing the Atlantic when he learned that the Nazis had raided his home. They said they were searching for communist weaponry. They also confiscated Einstein's boat saying it was used for smuggling.

Together with his wife Elsa, Einstein landed in Belgium. He immediately went to the German consulate in Brussels and renounced his German citizenship. At this point, Einstein was a man without a country. Where would he go? Fortunately for him, Einstein was being courted at that time by several universities and research centers throughout the world including Caltech and Oxford. Einstein decided to settle near Princeton and become a member of the Institute of Advanced Study.

The persecution of Einstein in Germany did not end with his renounced citizenship, but became more intense. His writings were included in mass book burnings where Nazi leaders declared that "Jewish intellectualism is dead." The Nazis put a $5,000 bounty on his head and put his picture on a magazine with the caption "Not yet hanged."

Einstein accepting US citizenship papers
Einstein became a US citizen in 1940
Author: Al. Aumuller

World War II and the Atomic Bomb

World War II began in 1939 when Germany invaded Poland. Around that same time, Leo Szilard, an old friend of Einstein's, had come to the conclusion (using Einstein's E=mc2 theory) that an extremely powerful bomb could be made using uranium to start a nuclear reaction. Szilard knew that no one would listen to him, so he he managed to track down Einstein in a cottage on Long Island. Upon reviewing Szilard's notes, Einstein declared "I never thought of that!" He did, however, agree that such a bomb was possible and that the Germans were likely already attempting to build one.

Realizing what a weapon like an atomic bomb could do in the hands of the Nazis, Einstein and Szilard wrote a letter to President Roosevelt outlining their concerns. Upon reading the letter, Roosevelt began secret research into nuclear weapons called the Manhattan Project. The U.S. would eventually build an atomic bomb and use it against Japan at both Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

After the U.S. used the bomb against Japan, Einstein and Szilard formed the Emergency Committee of Atomic Scientists in order to try and prevent the bomb from ever being used in war again.

Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer
Source: US Govt. Defense Threat Reduction Agency

Interesting Facts

After leaving Germany, Einstein worked with several world leaders, including Winston Churchill, in an effort to help other Jewish scientists escape Germany.

After taking over Einstein's home, the Nazis turned it into a Hitler Youth camp.

When a number of German scholars put together a book against Einstein's theory of relativity titled One Hundred Authors Against Einstein, Einstein retorted that "to defeat relativity one did not need the word of 100 scientists, just one fact."

Einstein became a U.S. citizen in 1940 despite the fact that FBI director J. Edgar Hoover recommended that he not be allowed into the United States.

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Albert Einstein Biography Contents
  1. Overview
  2. Growing up Einstein
  3. Education, the Patent Office, and Marriage
  4. The Miracle Year
  5. Theory of General Relativity
  6. Academic Career and Nobel Prize
  7. Leaving Germany and World War II
  8. More Discoveries
  9. Later Life and Death
  10. Albert Einstein Quotes and Bibliography
Back to Biographies >> Inventors and Scientists

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Leonardo da Vinci
Thomas Edison
Albert Einstein
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Robert Fulton
Jane Goodall
Johannes Gutenberg
Stephen Hawking
Antoine Lavoisier
James Naismith
Isaac Newton
Louis Pasteur
The Wright Brothers

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