Einstein in the Archives

During the early years of Hitler’s rise to power in Nazi-controlled Germany, many scholars and intellectuals fled the fascist regime and settled in the United States. Of these, Einstein was among the most famous.

This 1934 letter from Einstein to his friend and colleague Arthur Holly Compton was written just a year after Einstein decided not to return to Germany following Hitler’s 1933 appointment as Chancellor. Both Compton and Einstein were Nobel Prize recipients; Einstein made good use of his scholarly networks to help promote his colleagues’ work, and assist fellow scholar-refugees in finding academic posts in the United States.

In the letter, he writes Compton to tell him of Dr. Alexander Kolin’s work and to recommend him as a scholar, noting that he worked with renowned physicist Gustav Hertz in Berlin. (click here for full transcription).

Albert Einstein to Arthur Holly Compton, 11 November 1934. Arthur Holly Compton’s Personal Papers Series 3: Personal Correspondence, 1925-1962, Box 34, Folder 5: File of Correspondence from Important People as separated by Dr. and Mrs. Compton, - E, Item 5: Einstein, Albert (1934, 1941). Washington University Archives

Albert Einstein to Arthur Holly Compton, 11 November 1934. Arthur Holly Compton Personal Papers Series 3: Personal Correspondence, 1925-1962, Box 34, Folder 5: File of Correspondence from Important People as separated by Dr. and Mrs. Compton, – E, Item 5: Einstein, Albert (1934, 1941). Washington University Archives.

The second letter, written in 1941, also reflects Einstein’s efforts to disseminate the discoveries of fellow physicists. Here, he highlights Alfred Reis’ work on x-rays, a subject Compton knew much about, having worked for years on X-ray scattering. (full transcription).

“Professor Reis – who arrived in this country a short while ago – is a former assistant of Professor Fritz Haber and I know him as an able physicist. It may be that you find this matter of interest, especially in the present situation.”

-Albert Einstein to Arthur Holly Compton, 25 November 1941.

Albert Einstein to Arthur Holly Compton, 25 November 1941

Albert Einstein to Arthur Holly Compton, 25 November 1941.

 

More about Arthur Holly Compton

Compton was awarded the 1927 Nobel Prize in Physics for his discovery of the Compton effect – the decrease in energy, or the increase in wavelength, of a photon when scattered by a charged particle (electron). Compton was a Professor of Physics at Washington University and later in life, from 1945 to 1954, served as the university’s Chancellor.

The Fifth Solvay Conference, on Electrons and Photons. Arthur Holly Compton is seated in the second row, fourth from the right, directly behind Albert Einstein and Paul Langevin. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.

The Fifth Solvay Conference, on Electrons and Photons. Arthur Holly Compton is seated in the second row, fourth from the right, directly behind Albert Einstein and Paul Langevin. Photo credit: Wikipedia Commons.


This post is part of an occasional series, “Special Delivery – Letters from the WUSTL Archives and Special Collections.”

For more information about the letters and documents displayed here, or in general about Special Collections please contact us.

 

About the author

Lisa Lillie is a PhD Candidate in the Department of History at Washington University in St. Louis.