The Atlantic

The Scientist and the Fascist

How Einstein reacted to Hitler’s rise
Source: AP

In September 1930, Germany held its first national elections since the Great Crash of 1929, and the National Socialists won a stunning tally: 6,400,000 votes—10 times their total just two years before—and 107 seats. They were now the second largest party in the Reichstag. The word “Nazi” no longer evoked images of the madhouse, as one commentator wrote. Suddenly the party was almost respectable.

Even so, it still seemed to many as if Hitler’s support was tenuous. For Albert Einstein, Hitler’s sudden rush to prominence confirmed his historic distrust of the German body politic. But at this time, he did not see Hitler or National Socialism as a lasting danger. Asked in December of 1930 what to make of the new force in German politics, he answered that “I do not enjoy Herr Hitler’s acquaintance. He is living on the empty stomach of Germany. As soon as economic conditions improve, he will no longer be important.” Initially, he felt that no action at all would be needed to bring Hitler low. He reaffirmed for a Jewish organization that the “momentarily desperate economic situation” and the chronic “childish disease of the Republic” were to blame for the Nazi success. “Solidarity of the Jews, I believe, is always called for,” he wrote, “but any special reaction to the election results would be quite inappropriate.”

Einstein should have been right—the evidence for the fragility of Hitler’s support over the next two years makes for frustrating, bitter, what-if history. But even if he had persuasive reasons for believing that Hitler would not last, the election results reaffirmed the urgency of his core political

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