Sunday, July 31, 2011

ALBERT EINSTEIN'S ZIONISM The Humanitarian Impulse Behind the Movement to Resurrect the Jewish Homeland as seen through the eyes of its most exceptional advocate


A year-by-year account of Einstein's take on ideas and events as they shaped the Zionist struggle

An Internet Project By

Daniel S. Cutler

Discuss Here: 9 Comments

© 2005

All EInstein writings © Estate of Albert Einstein

Before Zionism








The Jewish People's Experience in Christian Europe

"It is From This Point of View That I Would Have You Look at The Zionist Movement"

Einstein reflects on his grandparents' world

Note to visitors: The first page of this project draws on an address in which Einstein surveyed the historical predicament of the Jewish people. This is Einstein's account of the background to the rise of Zionism and the attraction the movement held for him. The year-by-year account begins in the next section. (1879-1909).

You will find this a work in progress. Some sections are quite noticably incomplete. Check back again to see how they improve.

Copyrights: Finally, the material I have collected over the years comes from web sites, books, magazines, and newspaper articles. Please read the note on copyright here.

Thank you -- Dan Cutler


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Einstein Looks at His Grandparent's World

A century ago our forefathers, with few exceptions, lived in the ghetto. They were poor, without political rights, separated from the gentiles by a barrier of religious traditions, habits of life, and legal restrictions; their intellectual development was restricted to their own literature, and they had remained almost unaffected by the mighty advance of the European intellect which dates from the Renaissance.

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addresess delivered during Einstein's third visit to US (1931-32) reproduced as "Addresses on the Reconstruction in Palestine" in The World as I See It p.181

Einstein: "Our forefathers...lived in the ghetto"
By law Jews in most major cities were segregated in ghettos. In some times and places these were locked at night. Yet even ghetto living was not guaranteed. In the time of Einstein's grandparents a special residence tax was required of Jews for the privilege.

Pictured is the Vilna ghetto in a pre-WWI photograph.

Einstein: "They were poor"

Jewish Beggars
Legally excluded from owning land or practicing most trades, by Einstein's grandparents time, "mid-ninteenth century, half the Jews of Germany were either beggars or a step away from it, without a permanent right of residence."  more

Dealers in Second-Hand Clothes
Jewish merchants managed to eke out some profit by recycling goods.

copperplate engraving
Daniel Nikolaus Chodowiecki 1780

Street Peddlers
Small scale retail sales was another typical Jewish occupation. A merchant might hawk his wares from a street corner like the depicted figure. Others travelled long distances carrying their goods on their backs.

Vergameling Mans en Vrouwstaden 1833
Leo Baeck Institute, NY

The livelihood most commonly associated with Jews in Europe over the centuries was lending money at interest, a practice forbidden to Christians by Church law. Jews were channeled into the reviled profession as one of the few way left for them to make a living. Small time pawnbroking at high interest rates (partly to pay taxes required of Jews only) practically assured each encounter between a Jew and a destitute loan-seeker would be bitter and filled with resentment.

Jewish moneylenders portrayed in a Spanish manuscript from late 1200s.

Einstein: Our forefathers in the ghetto were "without rights"

Property of the King
Jews were categorized in a legal standing unto themselves in medieval European society, separate from the rights and privileges of peasants, nobility, artisans, etc. They were designated servi camera -- property of the the local ruler. The ruler was responsible to guarantee physical safety for his Jews, and to protect their internal autonomy. In exchange, the community was his to milk for revenue.
Codex Balduinensis

Einstein: Our forefathers were "separated from the Gentiles"

Fourth Lateran Council text coming

Distinctive garb was mandatory for Jews when they went out of the ghetto to assure they were set apart when walking among Christians. These Jews are wearing a sort of dunce cap.

Jews Badge These  sixteenth century German Jews are marked with a yellow circle. In the twentieth century the German Nazi regime revived the medieval pratice.

The Triumph of Church Over Synagogue

Triumph of Christianity over Judaism
Degradation of the Jews is explained in theological terms on the wall of Strasbourg Cathedral. Depicted is the crowned Church while Synagogue, blinfolded to the truth of the Gospels, continues to lean on the broken staff of the Old Testamanet.
"It would be licit to hold Jews, because of their crimes [of failing to embrace Christianity] in perpetual servitude, and therefore the princes may regard the possessions of Jews as belonging to the State." [St. Thomas Aquinas: De Regimine Judaeorum]

Church Triumphant over Synagogue Strasbourg Cathedral c. 1230

Einstein: Our forefathers were intellectually "restricted to their own literature"
In the ghettoes of Christian Europe and those of the Islamic empire, Jewish intellectuals spent their lives engrossed in the ancient texts, including agricultural laws of the lost homeland.

Cover page of Tractate "Seeds", the division of the Talmud including agricultural laws. Shown here is a nineteenth century printing of the Jerusalem Talmud (also called "The Palestinian Talmud". Produced under oppressive Roman rule following the Bar Kochba Revolt, the Jerusalem Talmud is regarded less authoritative than the version compiled under the freer conditions that prevailed in Babylonia.

"Thousands of Years of Our Martyrdom"

Einstein's description evokes the preceding centuries of precarious existence for a reviled people, what he once described as the "thousands of years of our martyrdom" which should inform our Zionist efforts to "solve the problem of living side by side with our brother the Arab in an open, generous, and worthy manner." source.

Some of the more lethal prejudices with which they had to contend:

The Blood Libel
Jews were accused of kidnapping and murdering Christian children to use their blood in Passover rituals

Two depictions of the alleged ritual murder of Simon of Trent
Simon of Trent, aged two, disappeared around Easter 1475. His father alleged that he had been kidnapped and murdered by the local Jewish community. Eighteen Jewish men and five Jewish women were arrested on the charge of ritual murder - the killing of a Christian child in order to use his blood in Jewish religious rites. In a series of interrogations that involved liberal use of judicial torture, the magistrates obtained the confessions of the Jewish men. Eight were executed in late June, and another committed suicide in jail. Leaders of the Jewish community were arrested, and seventeen of them confessed under torture. Fifteen of them, including the head of the community, were burned at the stake.
Top: Gandolfino d' Asti, late 15th century Italian painting (note the yellow circles on the Jews' cloaks)
Bottom: woodcut print from a facsimile of Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle or Buch der Chroniken, printed by Anton Koberger in 1493

Jews Burned Alive
Despite the protests of Pope Clement VI, over 60 large and 150 small Jewish communities were destroyed as a direct result of blood libel accusations. These included untold atrocities in Basel, Cologne, Strasbourg, Worms, Zurich and other cities.

Burning of the Jews of Nuremberg, woodcut, in Hartmann Schedel's Nuremberg Chronicle (1493)

Note: Zionist writer Echad Ha'am (whose humanistic vision of the Jewish national movement is similar to Einstein's) drew a unique lesson from the blood libel: It is indeed possible that the whole world is wrong and the Jews are right, he concluded. Consider the blood libel. Despite the widespread acceptance of the malicious myth, no Jew raised among Jews believes for a moment that any Jewish community practices cannibalism of Christian blood.

The Black Plague Libel
Jews were accused of causing Bubonic plague by poisoning Christians' wells.

Poisoners of Wells
Jews were accussed of causing the pandemic that wiped out 1/3 to 3/4 of Western Europe in the 14th century by deliberately poisoning wells.

Triumph of Death, an allegorical depiction of the Black Death devastation by Pieter Bruegel the Elder, c. 1562.

Jews: The bottommost class of society
The German law codex on the left, from the late 1100's, shows Jews at the bottom of society's ranks. The Jews depicted in the wood cut on the right are still on society's lowest rung four centuries later.
L: German law codex, Jews as bottommost class, late 1100s
R: True Descriptions of All the Classes on Earth, Hans Sachs,1568

Jews: Objects of ridicule and humiliation

Marked for scorn, Jews were often associated with swine
Left: Jew depicted riding backwards on a sow while another drinks its urine(1500)   
Right: Depiction of degrading ritual requiring Jews to take oaths standing on pigskin (1700)

Between 1290 and 1550, England, France, and most of southern and eastern Europe expelled their Jewish populations, at least once and sometimes several times. Jews were expelled from Frankfurt on August 23, 1614, an event depicted in the intaglio print above. The expulsion followed riots against Jews led by their economic rivals. According to the text, "1380 persons old and young were counted at the exit of the gate" and herded onto ships on the river Main.

Georg Keller, The Jews Expelled from Frankfort, etching 1614

"The Mob Came to Regard Physical Attacks on Jews as Permissible"
Encyclopedia Judaica

1614 Plundering the Jews Street

The Crusades marked a negative turning point in the history of the Jews in Germany. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica, "Henceforth the mob came to regard physical attacks on Jews as permissible, especially in periods of social or religious ferment. The city guilds forced the Jews out of the trades and the regular channels of commerce; this coincided with the stricter appliance of the church ban on usury in the 12th to 13th centuries. The combination of circumstances made money lending and pawnbroking the main occupation in Germany."

In the post-Crusade period further severe restrictions were imposed on the Jews, demonstrating their lower status within society. Merchant guilds expelled their Jewish members. In 1237 the Holy Roman Empire adopted the doctrine of servitus Judeorum, according to which Jews were serfs as punishment for their allegedly anti-Christian acts and beliefs. In 1342, a poll tax was levied on Jews.

Plundering the Judengasse 1614

Einstein: "Yet our forefathers had one great advantage over us."


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Einstein Looks at His Grandparent's World

Yet these obscure, humble people had one great advantage over us: each of them belonged in every fiber of his being to a community in which he was completely absorbed, in which he felt himself a fully privileged member, and which demanded nothing of him that was contrary to his natural habit of thought. Our forefathers in those days were pretty poor specimens intellectually and physically, but socially speaking they enjoyed an enviable spiritual equilibrium..

addresses delivered during Einstein's third visit to US (1931-32) reproduced as "Addresses on the Reconstruction in Palestine" in The World as I See It pg.181

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Einstein: The source of our forefathers' inner strength: "Each of them belonged in every fiber of his being to a community"

In the days of Einstein's grandparents there was no sense of alienation or devalued worth among members of the autonomous Jewish community.

The Synagogue at Furth

A self-governing community, seen, and seeing itself, as one outpost of a single people, dispersed among the nations
Within the confines of the ghetto Jews as a community had self-governing autonomy. Depicted in this sixteenth century Dutch etching the local council (kehilla) makes arrangements to distribute clothes to the poor. The councils also had power to raise taxes for internal services and to pay the king, ran its own courts, and represented Jews before non-Jewish authorities. As a community they were property of the king.

Kahal (Autonomous Jewish governing council) distributing clothes to poor

Einstein: Our forefathers enjoyed "an enviable spiritual equilibrium"
It was a spirituality strongly inflected with a sense of common history and a common shared fate

Ever conscious of national-religious roots
Commemoration of the destruction of the Temple and the loss of the homeland was inserted into even the most joyous occasions. A wedding celebration concludes with breaking of a glass, symbolic remembrance of the national-religious loss.

Jewish Wedding by M. Oppenheim 1861

Daily prayers for return to Zion
Facing Jerusalem, Jews prayed daily for restoration of their scattered nation to Zion - Jerusalem.
from the Daily Prayer book of the Jewish Theological Seminary

Keeping faith with the homeland
Assuring one another that the end of exile was not far off.

Concluding prayer of Passover seder

A note on Einstein's observation: " Our forefathers in those days were pretty poor specimens... physically"

Physical fitness
Centuries of enforced confinement in ghettoes and legacy of emasculating decrees - such as forbidding Jewish men to carry arms or ride a horse, led to a cultural depreciation of physicality among Jews. By Einstein's time Zionism consciously strove to reverse this. Pictured above are athletes of the German Zionist sports club Bar Kochba, named for the commander of the doomed Jewish revolt against Roman rule in the year 135. A tradition of nationalistic athletic clubs in Germany and Eastern Europe preceded by decades the Zionist embrace of sports.

1902 Bar Kochba Club

Einstein: "Then came emancipation..."

The French Revolution
A revolutionary concept: Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternatie - for Jews, too.


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Einstein Looks at His Grandparent's World (cont'd)

Then came emancipation, which suddenly opened up undreamed-of possibilities to the individuals. Some few rapidly made a position for themselves in the higher walks of business and social life. They greedily lapped up the splendid triumphs which the art and science of the western world had achieved.  They joined in the process with burning enthusiasm, themselves making contributions of lasting value.

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addresses delivered during Einstein's third visit to US (1931-32) reproduced as "Addresses on the Reconstruction in Palestine" in The World as I See It p..181

Emancipation of the Jews in Europe began with the 1789 French Revolution's overthrow of the "Divine Right" of kings and inherited privilege of aristocracy in favor of Liberty!. Equality! Fraternity! for all citizens.
Legal restrictions on Jews were lifted. Jewish citizens were accorded the same civil rights as Catholics and Protestants.

General Napoleon spreads French revolutionary ideas, including emancipation of Jews.
After European victories Napoleon sets out to conquer Holy Land.
Napoleon made plans to "restore the country to the Jews" but was turned back at Acre by an Ottoman-British alliance.

Napoleon returns to France. Crowns himself "Emperor"

Emperor Napoleon "reconvenes" the Sanhedrin

Failing to reestablish a Jewish kingdom in Palestine, Napoleon reconvened a "Grand Sanhedrin",ancient Israel's supreme court and legislative body. The original Sanhedrin held court in Jerusalem from the first century BC until its destruction by the Romans in 70 AD. It then moved to the central Israel town of Yavneh and then to the Tzippori and Tiberias in the Galilee.
Napoleon's Sanhedrin disbanded after a few years.

Napoleon the Great Restores the Cult of the Israelites, etching, 1806


Jewish rights reversed after Napoleon's defeat at Waterloo
After Napoleon's defeat Jewish advances are turned back everywhere except France and Netherlands. (Along with those two, only the USA regards Jews as equal to other citizens.)

Congress of Vienna shapes Einstein's grandparents' world : Arch-conservatism in the name of stability, monarchies restored. "Jewish question" also on agenda
Agreement: Jewish rights to be given "in proportion to accepting the duties of citizenship".

The Congress of Vienna by Jean-Baptiste Isabey

Rise of Nationalisms


Congress of Vienna settlement leaves millions of people disunited
or living under the rule of foreign potentates. 

By mid-century many subject peoples come to feel self-government would best preserve their political rights and their culture:

Magyar nobility (ethnic Hungarians) are first to win political rights from German-speaking Catholic Austrian Empire, hence it becomes known as the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Germans nationalists also wanted to free thenmselves from Catholic Empire and to unite the 30 loosley confedereated German states.

Italians, too, wanted to throw off the German-speaking Austrians and to forge their disunited regions into a single country.

Czechs and Serbs seek self-determination. Other European peoples expressing national aspirations: Belgians, Norwegians, Poles. and numerous other ethnic groups making up the Ottoman and Russian Empires: Slovaks, Croats, Albanians, Bulgarians, Romanians.

1848 - The Year of Revolutions
A series of revolts against autocratic monarchies sweeps Europe

October 1848 Revolution, Museum der Stadt Wien


Italy Unites
1870 Garibaldi  leads his men to route Prussian invaders.


Germany Unites ("The Second Reich ")

Otto von Bismark, The "Iron Chancellor"
He unified Germany, creating the Second German Reich (Empire)

Kaiser Wilhelm
Emperor of the newly unified German Reich

German states consolidated into a unified nation, the Second Reich.
Five years later Albert Einstein's parents marry.

Jewish emancipation throughout all united Germany
Just eight years after Jews are granted full legal citizenship Einstein will be born into a world where those rights are far from universally accepted.

Einstein: Emancipation suddenly opened "undreamed-of possibilities" to Jews

No longer confined to studying only their own literature,
Emancipated Jews threw themselves into the general intellectual pursuits of Europe. In Einstein's Germany the progress was especially rapid.

In Education

Women in school!
preposterously imagined as a typical pipe-smoking university undergraduate, is further caricatured by  suggesting she might even be Jewish.

In Business

Emil Rathenau
Having bought the European patents for Edison's electric light bulb, Emil Rathenau set about creating AEG, Europe's largest supplier of electricity. Shown here is an experimental electric tram on the grounds of AEG complex.

In Science

Jacob Henle
Text Coming

In the Arts

Text coming
Text Coming


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Einstein Looks at His Grandparent's World (cont'd)

At the same time they imitated the external forms of gentile life, departed more and more from their religious and social traditions, and adopted gentile customs, manners, and habits of thoughts. It seemed as though they were completely losing their identity in the superior numbers and more highly organized culture of the nations among whom they lived, so that in a few generations there would be no trace of them left. A complete disappearance of Jewish nationality in Central and Western Europe seemed inevitable.

addresses delivered during Einstein's third visit to US (1931-32) reproduced as "Addresses on the Reconstruction in Palestine" in The World as I See It p..181

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Einstein: But, emancipated Jews also "adopted gentile customs, manners and habits of thought "

Walter Rathenau

"My religion is that Germanic faith which is above all else religious"

In delineating his portrait of Jewish assimilation Einstein may well have had in mind his acquaintance Walther Rathenau. Eager to distance himself from the community, Rathenau cautioned his fellow Jews "not to attract so much attention."  "In the the youth of every German Jew," wrote Rathenau, "there is a painful moment, which he will remember as long as he lives when he realizes fully for the first time that he has been born into the world as a second-class citizen, and that no virtue and  no merit can free him from this situation."

Heir to the AEG electrical company, Rathenau became Foreign Minister of the German Weimar Republic. In 1922 graffiti started appearing on Berlin walls:

God damn Walther Rathenau
The dirty, stinking Jewish sow

Months later three "young, nationally-minded Germans" pulled up along side his car, emptied their pistols into him, then tossed in a grenade for good measure.

Nachum T. Gidal, Jews in Germany from Roman Times to the Weimar Republic, Konemann Verlasgesellschaft, Cologne 1988 p. 327

Einstein: Emancipated Jews "imitated the external forms of Gentile life..."

Jewish Dueling Society
Defending one's insulted honor by challenging to the offender to a fencing duel was a student fad in late nineteen hundreds Germany. But gentile students refused "satisfaction" to Jewish challengers on the grounds that a Jew inherently has no honor to defend.

Einstein: "In a few generations there would be no trace of them left"

As Rathenau discovered, in order to advance in one's field many Jews found it necessary to distance themselves from the community

"How is it you converted to Catholicism?
"Because the Protestants have too many Jews ."
cartoon in the German satirical periodical Simplicissimus, 1898, reproduced in Ruth Gay, The Jews of Germany

Einstein: "A complete disappearance of the Jewish nationality ...seemed inevitable"

Einstein's pessimistic view of the inevitable Jewish future is captured in the original caption to this 1904 cartoon.

1904 cartoon from the German satirical magazine Der Schlemiel


Einstein Looks at His Grandparent's World (cont'd)

But events turned out otherwise...

addresses delivered during Einstein's third visit to US (1931-32) reproduced as "Addresses on the Reconstruction in Palestine" in The World as I See It p.181

Emancipation's Opponents

Hep Hep Riots
Jealous of the rapid gains made by people they regarded as inferior, in 1819 German mobs took out their frustrations by attacking Jews in their homes and businesses. The attacks became known as the Hep! Hep! riots for the acronym "Jerusalem is lost" (in Latin) chanted by the mob. The odd phrase harkens back to the crusades.

Jews the equals of Christians? Ridiculous!
In place of the lofty ideals motivating the revolutionaries of 1848 these cartooned Jews rally to the banner of "Profits" and "Equal Rights with Christians".

Jewish economic perfidy

In this 1851 anti-Semitic cartoon an unscrupulous Jewish stockbroker shrugs off a young pickpocket,
"No matter. That's how I started, too."

Social rejection

Moishe Pish from Tranopol changes his name to Moritz Waterfall, moves to Posen and deals in second-hand Parissien fashions. Then as Maurice LaFontaine he sets himself up in Berlin as a art dealer.

cartoon in the German satirical periodical Simplicissimus, 1904 reproduced in Ruth Gay, The Jews of Germany


Before Zionism

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