The private Einstein

Print edition : May 20, 2005

ALBERT EINSTEIN once wrote to an old friend of his ETH days: "I am so far all right in that I have victoriously survived the Nazi time and two wives" (quoted by A. Pais in Einstein Lived Here). On another occasion, speaking ostensibly about his pipe-smoking habit, Einstein remarked: "My aim lies in smoking, but as a result things tend to clog up, I'm afraid. Life too is like smoking, especially marriage." Einstein's private life was complicated and difficult, marked by many ups and downs, though he made other lasting personal friendships, particularly with his scientific colleagues or those with whom he had shared intellectual interests.

A 1910 photo of Einstein and his first wife Mileva Maric, taken in Prague.-CHRISTIE'S NEW YORK/AP

Einstein's first wife was Mileva Maric, a fellow student at the ETH, whom he married in 1903 after overcoming his family's objections. At that time they had a two-year-old daughter, Lieserl, who was given for adoption, a fact known to biographers only in the early 1980s. Subsequent efforts by Einstein scholars to trace her whereabouts proved unsuccessful. Albert and Mileva had two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard. Hans became a professor of engineering in the United States. Eduard was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the time he entered university. Hans would later comment with some bitterness that he was the one project that his illustrious father gave up on.

Einstein and Mileva separated, with much harshness on Einstein's part and bitterness on hers, in 1914, with the children being in the custody of Mileva. The claim in some quarters that Mileva contributed substantially to the development of the Special Theory of Relativity, and was perhaps an unacknowledged second author, has been rejected decisively by Einstein scholars and biographers.

Einstein struggled with the General Theory of Relativity, achieving success in November 1915. In an extraordinary burst of activity from then until the spring of 1917, Einstein published papers at the rate of one every month. In 1917 Einstein fell very ill and was nursed by his cousin Elsa. Their correspondence had begun after a meeting in 1912 and the correspondence had grown increasingly affectionate and later intimate.

Einstein married Elsa in 1919 after a divorce settlement with Mileva, which included the payment of Einstein's Nobel Prize money to her when it was won. Einstein's relationship with Elsa was not one of great intimacy. Einstein, though, seems to have always had numerous affairs through the years, a bohemian streak he himself, very indirectly, acknowledged. Current Einstein biographies tend to the view that his private persona was much less lovable than his public image would suggest.

Elsa died in 1936 after the Einsteins moved to the U.S. Einstein was joined by his beloved sister Maria (Maja) in 1939 in the U.S. Einstein was always close to her and he attended on her in her last days in Princeton in 1951.

For more than 20 years, Helen Dukas was Einstein's secretary. Increasingly, she managed Einstein's household and took care of him till the end. She was named as one of the two trustees of Einstein's estate in his will in 1950, a task that she carried out until her death in 1982.

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