This Day in Jewish History |

2011: Einstein’s ‘Embarrassing Granddaughter’ Dies

Evelyn Einstein, who suspected she was the physicist’s biological daughter, sank into abject poverty but rebounded to find her calling in cult de-programming.

David Green
David B. Green
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Albert Einstein.
Albert Einstein. Credit: AP
David Green
David B. Green

On April 13, 2011, Evelyn Einstein, the adoptive granddaughter of Albert Einstein – who was also convinced that she was the physicist’s illegitimate daughter – died at the age of 70.

The life story of Evelyn Einstein is that of a woman who never quite found her place – either in the world or within her family. She was, not surprisingly, highly intelligent and a nonconformist, but suffered from being raised in a dysfunctional extended family, and had to contend with ill health and poverty during much of her life.

Evelyn Einstein was born in Chicago, to an unmarried 16-year-old named Joan Hire, on March 28, 1941. Hire put the baby up for adoption, and at the age of eight days, Evelyn was taken into the family of Hans Albert Einstein and his wife, the former Frieda Knecht.

Hans Albert (1904-1973) was the second child of Albert Einstein and Mileva Maric. A civil engineer by training, Hans Albert married Frieda in 1927; the two emigrated to the United States from Switzerland in 1938.

Evelyn was raised in South Carolina and in California, where her father received an academic appointment at the University of California, Berkeley, in 1947.

All in the dysfunctional family

According to writer Michelle Zackheim, Evelyn told her that she grew up hearing from family members that she was actually the out-of-wedlock daughter of Albert Einstein and a dancer with whom he had a relationship. (Zackheim got to know Evelyn while working on a book about the fate of Albert Einstein’s first child, Lieserl, who was born to him and Mileva a year before they married, and who disappeared from historical records a year later, in 1903.)

Evelyn never knew whether to believe the story about her origin was true. As she told Zackheim, “Since I had no proof, I thought that if I broached this subject with people, they would think I was crazy.” Certainly, her grandfather, whom she saw infrequently – he lived in Princeton, New Jersey, while she was on the West Coast – never told her that he was also her father.

In 1960, while she was a student at Berkeley, Evelyn had a brief moment of celebrity when she was arrested while participating in a political demonstration against the work of the House Un-American Activities Committee. Later, she married the physical anthropologist Grover Krantz, an expert on the origins of the human species. He was probably best known as a serious scientist who posited the actual existence of “Bigfoot,” a hominid-like creature of the Pacific Northwest that is generally believed to be mythical.

Dumpster diving and dog-catching

Krantz and Einstein divorced after 13 years. For a period of several months, she told Zackheim, she lived in her car and found her food in dumpsters. Then she found work, and over a period of years was employed, successively, as a dog-catcher, a reserve police officer, a bank teller, and as someone who care for the boats at the Berkeley Marina.

Probably her most satisfying job was as a cult de-programmer: Several people whom she helped in this capacity spoke warmly of her at a memorial program held after Evelyn’s death.

In 1986, Evelyn turned over to scholars a memoir from Albert Einstein that quoted love letters he had written to Mileva Maric, and that led to the finding of a large cache of such letters in a safe-deposit box in Berkeley. Later, in 1995, she sued the Einstein estate over the fact that the Hebrew University owned not only the rights to his literary estate but also to the use of his physical image.

At the time, she told the New York Post, “I never made any issue of the fact that they were willed the literary estate. But what does a bobblehead doll have to do with a literary estate?”

Evelyn told Michelle Zackheim that she herself had received a lump sum of $5,000 from her grandfather’s estate, “and not a penny more.”

Late in life, Evelyn was burdened with ill health – diabetes and heart and lung disease. She told Zackheim that she was something of an outcast in the family, whose members were embarrassed by her, for, she said, “my homeliness, my being fat, my being in a wheelchair and my having an opinion. Oh, and my being more intelligent than any of them!”

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