Einstein's Letter Warning of Hitler Goes Up for Auction

letter by einstein
A letter written by Einstein to his dear friend Michele Besso discusses the futility of British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's appeasement strategy towards the Nazis on the eve of World War II. (Image credit: Nate D. Sanders Auctions)

Three letters penned by Albert Einstein, including one decrying the British prime minister's appeasement of the Nazis prior to World War II, are going up for auction today.

The collection of letters was written by the physics genius to his dear friend Michele Besso, a Swiss-Italian engineer who was originally credited along with Einstein on the original version of his theory of special relativity. The letters are on auction at Nate D. Sanders Auctions, in Los Angeles.

The first letter — which was written in October 1938, less than a year before Adolf Hitler would invade Poland and start World War II — was postmarked in Princeton, New Jersey. Einstein began the letter by expressing frustration that he could not issue more affidavits to allow more Jewish people to come into the U.S.

He then went on to express his skepticism about English Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain's inclination to look the other way if Hitler annexed Czechoslovakia.

"You have confidence in the British and even Chamberlain? O sancta simpl...! ['Oh holy innocence' in Latin] Hoping that Hitler might let off steam by attacking Russia, he sacrifices Eastern Europe," Einstein wrote of Chamberlain in the letter. "But we will come to see once more that shrewdness does not win in the long term. In France, he pushed the Left into a corner and, in France as well, helped give power to those people whose motto is, 'Better Hitler than the Reds.'"

Einstein then refers to quantum mechanics and says that describing the laws of nature in terms of probability is ultimately a "wrong direction" despite its successes. (Einstein was famously skeptical of some elements of quantum mechanics — in particular, the notion of "spooky" action at a distance implied by quantum entanglement, in which subatomic particles seem to effect each others' fate almost instantly, even when separated by large distances.) The letter has a starting bid of $25,000.

In addition to the letter mentioning Hitler, the auction will include a letter from Einstein discussing his divorce from his first wife, Mileva Marić, and his financial prospects as a result of winning the Nobel Prize in physics. Bidding for that letter starts at $42,250. A third letter, which details his son's problems with schizophrenia, has a starting bid of $25,000.

Originally published on Live Science.

Tia Ghose
Managing Editor

Tia is the managing editor and was previously a senior writer for Live Science. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Wired.com and other outlets. She holds a master's degree in bioengineering from the University of Washington, a graduate certificate in science writing from UC Santa Cruz and a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Texas at Austin. Tia was part of a team at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that published the Empty Cradles series on preterm births, which won multiple awards, including the 2012 Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism.