About the Collection

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Albert Einstein to Otto Nathan,
11 June [July?] 1953

"It was like a miracle that we always immediately understood each other without many words and agreed on the position to take...."

A gift of Morris and Adele Bergreen in 2003, Vassar College Libraries' Albert Einstein collection documents a lesser-known aspect of Albert Einstein’s career: his social and political work in the United States and abroad, with special attention to Jewish affairs. The collection was formed by Einstein's friend and executor to his will, Otto Nathan, an economist and professor at several institutions of higher learning, including Vassar College. It is composed of correspondence between Einstein and Nathan, as well as letters from Einstein's wife, Elsa, to Nathan, some manuscripts, ephemera, and photographs of Einstein. A number of letters discuss the fate of Jews in Europe and other aspects of World War II. Others deal with Brandeis University, Jewish affairs in the United States, and personal matters.

After his emigration from Germany in 1933, Albert Einstein began his work at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University. One of the people he got to know at Princeton was Otto Nathan. Nathan was an economist who had served as an advisor to the German government from 1920 to 1933. In 1927 he was a German delegate to the World Economic Conference, held in Geneva. Like so many others, Nathan left Germany after Hitler’s rise to power. He came to the United States and taught at several institutions of higher learning, including Princeton (1933-35), New York University (1935-42), Vassar (1942-44), and Howard University (1946-52). Nathan also published a number of articles and books on economic subjects, such as Nazi War Finance and Banking and The Nazi Economic System: Germany’s Mobilization for War.

Einstein and Nathan had similar backgrounds and common interests, and a friendship quickly developed between them. They began to correspond regularly, discussing a variety of issues and topics. After Nathan left Princeton in 1935, they maintained close personal ties; for instance, Nathan played an important role by taking care of many of Einstein’s legal, financial and real estate matters. The two professors also collaborated on several social and political issues of the day. The great trust and confidence that Einstein felt for Nathan was expressed most clearly in his will of 1950. In this document Einstein named Nathan the sole executor of his estate, and further designated him a joint trustee, along with Helen Dukas, the scientist’s longtime secretary.

Einstein died in April, 1955. In the months and years following, Nathan devoted himself to the work of serving as Einstein’s executor. Eventually, a series of correspondence and other materials made their way to Vassar College. Read more about the history of the collection at Vassar ».

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