EINSTEIN, Albert. Typed manuscript, "Antisemitismus," unsigned, SOME 40 WORDS IN EINSTEIN'S HAND interlined into the text on pages 4 and 11, n.d. . 11 pages, 4to, age-toned, right edge of final page slightly chipped, emendations in pencil. In German, with accompanying English translation. Additional emendations, in two different hands, appear on pages 3, 9, 10, and the bottom of page 11.
"WHY DO THEY HATE THE JEWS?" EINSTEIN'S EXPLANATION OF ANTI-SEMITISM AND THE NAZIS
In the fateful year of 1938--when the Anschluss, Munich and Kristallnacht marked a radical increase in Nazi violence and aggression--Einstein offers a calm, measured explanation of anti-Semitism for American readers. The president of Crowell Publishing Co., Thomas H. Beck, commissioned the piece for publication in Collier's magazine. "It struck me," Beck wrote Einstein, "that you could serve the cause of tolerance on a world-wide scale by writing an article...that would be taken more seriously than any similar expression by any other living person." Einstein eagerly complied with this insightful analysis.
He sees German anti-Semitism continuing in the tradition of Tsarist rulers in the late 19th century, who were "looking to divert the discontentment of the people by stirring up hate and violence against the Jews....When the Germans lost the world war, which was started by their reigning class, they immediately and successfully tried to blame the Jews for starting and losing the war. The hate they created not only protected the privileged class, but also allowed an unscrupulous and bold, small group [in recent years] to bring the German people into a state of complete servitude."
Einstein tries to keep his emotions in check throughout the piece, but some of the excised passages show his deeper feelings: On page four he strikes through the words: "the mob needs hatred and violence just like alcohol to numb itself. In peaceful times this shows in the character of their games and pleasures." He replaces it with the more neutral: "in times of unrest and agitation mankind tends to engage in hatred and cruelty, while in quiet times these traits of human nature only appear in disguise."
The essay is not just a dissection of anti-Semitism, but a fascinating exploration of what it means to be a Jew: "What connects the Jews and has connected them for millennia is first of all a democratic ideal of social justice and the idea of obligation to mutual help and tolerance for all human beings among each other...Personalities like Moses, Jesus, Spinoza and Karl Marx, as different as they may be from one another, all lived and sacrificed themselves for the ideal of social justice and were led onto this thorn-filled way by their father's tradition....The second character trait of the Jewish tradition is the high esteem of intellectual striving and mental work..." These two traits, he argues, explain the particular vehemence of the Nazi's hatred for the Jews, for the Jewish commitment to justice and intellect constituted a standing rebuke to the anti-intellectualism of the Nazis, with their book burning and demagogy, and their attempt to foster absolute loyalty to an absolutist regime. Among Jews, "a critical spirit prevails, which prevents any human authority from being served blindly."
Einstein also makes clear his rejection of a key Nazi tenet: that Jews constituted a separate race. He speaks of "a traditional community" with salient cultural traits, but rejects the idea of hereditary racial characteristics. "Honest anthropologists agree on this; contradictory statements belong entirely to political propaganda and are to be evaluated as such." The essay was translated into English and printed in the 26 November 1938 issue of Collier's under the title, "Why Do They Hate the Jews?" Einstein later re-published it in his books, Ideas and Opinions and Out of My Later Years.