A collection of letters written by Albert Einstein is set to go to auction next week, offering a new glimpse at the Nobel-winning physicist's views on God, McCarthyism and what was then the newly established state of Israel.
- When Freud and Einstein tried to answer an age-old question: Why war?
- Einstein’s theory of relatives: A personal look at the man behind the brain
- What we can learn from Heidelberg University's descent into Nazism
The five original letters, dated 1951 to 1954 and signed by Einstein, reveal a witty and sensitive side of the esteemed scientist. They were sent to quantum physicist David Bohm, a colleague who fled the United States for Brazil in 1951 after refusing to testify about his links to the Communist Party to the House Un-American Activities Committee.
Bohm's widow's estate put the documents on the block after she passed away last year. One of the yellowing pages, bearing Einstein's signature and embossed seal, and a handwritten general relativity equation, opens at $8,000 and is expected to sell for at least twice that. In all, the collection is expected to fetch over $20,000.
Einstein and Bohm became friends when they both worked at Princeton University. Their letters touch on quantum physics, the nature of the divine and Bohm's miserable time in Brazil.
"If God has created the world his primary worry was certainly not to make its understanding easy for us," Einstein assured Bohm in February 1954, a year before his death.
In another letter from February 1953, Einstein compares "the present state of mind" of America gripped by McCarthyist anti-Communism to the paranoia in Germany in the early 20th century under Kaiser Wilhelm II. Republican Sen. Joseph McCarthy in the 1950s led a hunt for alleged communist traitors he believed worked in the government and the army.
Bohm, who left the United States in the midst of the so-called Red Scare, conveyed dismay and displeasure about living in Brazil, where he was working at the University of Sao Paulo. He said he had trouble adjusting to the local food.
Einstein, then 75, offers sympathy to his younger colleague for the "instability of your belly, a matter where I have myself extended experience." He suggested getting a good cook.
Einstein said the foreseeable future didn't portend a "more reasonable political attitude" in the United States, and that Bohm ought to hold out in Brazil until he gets citizenship before leaving for a more "intellectual atmosphere."
One idea that came up was relocating to Israel, which had declared independence in 1948. But despite Einstein's ties to Israel's Hebrew University, he believed the country offered limited opportunities. Einstein himself declined an offer in 1952 to become Israel's president, though he served remotely on the Hebrew University's first Board of Governors and left his papers to the school in his will.
"Israel is intellectually active and interesting but has very narrow possibilities," the Nobel laureate wrote. "And to go there with the intention to leave on the first occasion would be regrettable."
Despite Einstein's counsel, Bohm, who was Jewish, left Brazil for Israel in 1955, where he taught at Haifa's Technion Institute of Technology for two years. There he met his wife, Sarah Woolfson. They married in 1956. A year later the couple moved to the United Kingdom, where Bohm taught at Bristol University until his death in 1992.
Mrs. Bohm returned to Israel after her husband's death and resided in Jerusalem. She died in April 2016 and her estate put her husband's letters from Einstein up for sale at Winner's auction house in Jerusalem.
Roni Grosz, curator of the Albert Einstein Archives at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, home to the world's largest collection of Einstein material, said copies of the Bohm letters were already in the archive and that there was "nothing extraordinary" about them. But he said anything connected to Einstein tends to generate interest.
"There's today tremendous interest in all things Einstein. Einstein documents, letters, drafts are being on sale all the time," he said. "There's barely a month that passes with no Einstein documents in auction or in sale."
The auction, which includes copies of other letters sent by Einstein and correspondence by fellow Nobel laureate Louis de Broglie, will be held on June 20, though early bids are being accepted online.