When the First World War broke out in August of 1914, enthusiastic crowds filled the streets and war fever spread throughout the battling nations. Hatred of the enemy and hysteria did not leave science unscathed. Scientists who had once worked together as colleagues suddenly were isolated and separated. Furthermore, instead of physics, many turned to weapons development. Einstein was not amused.
Disgusted, Einstein turned to politics. As a response to the pro-German "Manifesto of the Civilized World," Einstein openly revealed the insanity of war with his own "Manifesto to Europeans." As the war progressed, so did Einstein's involvement in international affairs. Einstein also sought the council of the pacifist Romain Rolland. He believed in the wealth of nations was the underlying problem that aroused the great struggle and became a socialist. Einstein was called the Swiss Jew in Berlin because of his Swiss citizenship and Jewish heritage in the war era. Einstein's hatred for war sometimes grew obsessive.
In addition to intertwining himself with politics, Einstein continued to work on science. Although he was physically strong and capable of working long hours, he eventually became ill and suffered from attacks of the stomach. Moreover, he coped alone, separated from his family.
Fortunately Einstein's cousin, Elsa Einstein was living in Berlin at the time. To Einstein's relief, She was kind, slightly provincial, and knew nothing of physics. Mileva, Einstein's first wife, had a curiosity that made her sometimes mentally relentless. Elsa slowly took over organizing the petty details of Einstein's life and allowed him to focus more on science and politics. With Elsa's help, he also slowly recovered from his illness in 1917.
By 1916, although he still supported his wife, Einstein had grown increasingly distant to Mileva and avoided communication with her in his visits to Switzerland. In 1919, Einstein finally obtained a divorce from Mileva and married his cousin Elsa. This move had little influence on Einstein's scientific career but greatly impacted his political life. Without her, Einstein might have cracked under the publicity and withdrawn himself from his beliefs.
In 1927, Einstein started attacking the new wave mechanics of the younger scientists Bohr, Heisenberg, Schrodinger, and Dirac. He and many other scientists had doubts about the uncertainty and probability that they suggested governed the world. However, Einstein's arguments were systematically refuted. His friends and colleagues were surprised. Einstein had so often played the role of the rebel leader yet he did not support the newer theories just as the old physicists had not supported his theory of relativity.
Einstein also faced another problem. The long time pacifist debated whether to encourage the fight against the Nazis. He struggled with this question but finally came to the conclusion that a Nazi Europe would be worse than war. From Belgium, Einstein briefly stayed in England, warning British leaders of the menace of the Nazis. Einstein and his family then journeyed to the United States, taking up a position at the Institute of Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey. They would never return to Europe again.
He received a warm welcome when he landed in the United States. Einstein was invited to the White House. The newspapers covered the Einsteins intensely and ordinary people lined up to catch a glimpse of the genius that supposedly revolutionized the world with his theories.
However, this was all to Einstein's disliking. He wanted a peaceful place for his work. Einstein bought a modest two-story house with a small garden at 112 Mercer Street close to his office. The second story housed his study complete with pencils, papers, and pipes where he would work for the rest of his life.
At Princeton, the atmosphere was almost perfect. There were no undergraduates, no fraternities, no football teams, no grants, and no degrees. Most respected Einstein's privacy and he had no need for bodyguards. He liked the tree lined streets and quiet houses. One of the only things Einstein regretted was the lack of young inexperienced minds that he enjoyed interacting with in Berlin. Here, his only "students" had already obtained their doctorates.
Many new advances of science occurred at this time. A year before his arrival in the United States, a new sub-atomic particle, the neutron, had been discovered. Because of its lack of charge, the neutron was a perfect nuclear particle to bombard atoms. Enrico Fermi experimented with this and produced the element of neptunium when he bombarded uranium. Because of Hitler's rearmament and renewed threats of war, Einstein was still busy helping the refugee scientists fleeing Germany at this time.
In December of 1936, his life was suddenly shattered when his wife Elsa died. Because he still worked regularly during this time, many people judged him harshly. To him, individual suffering did not matter. His stepdaughter, Margot, took over as his faithful secretary to help him with petty concerns.
In 1939, the pacifist Einstein -- fearful of a world in which only Hitler would have an atomic bomb -- urged President Franklin D. Roosevelt in a famous letter to engage the United States in uranium research. That Germany, after all, had no bomb, and the first bomb would fall on Japan, could not have been foreseen. After the war, Einstein never ceased to work for peace and disarmament. He bore his long last illness with great stoicism, and died peacefully on April 18, 1955 at the age of 76.
"There comes a time when the mind takes a higher plane of knowledge but can never prove how it got there. All great discoveries have involved such a leap. The important thing is not to stop questioning."
Great Einstein site by A.E with a descriptive biography, details of major works, pictures, links, quotes