© The Nobel Foundation

American Jewish Recipients of the Nobel Prize

Albert Einstein: Nobel Prize

Recipient in Physics-1921
by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Albert Einstein was an American Jewish recipient of the Nobel Prize in Physics, 1921,for his services to Theoretical Physics and especially for his discovery of the law of the photoelectric effect.

Albert Einstein was a theoretical physicist whose writings in physics changed the course of science and of history. Articles that Einstein wrote in 1905 brought him world recognition and fame. His article on the theory of relativity shook up and caused great excitement in the scientific world.

Einstein was the son of Hermann and Pauline Koch Einstein. He was born on March 14, 1879, in Ulm, Germany. When Einstein was a young boy, his father established a small electrical equipment factory in Munich with his uncle. The Einstein family moved to Munich, which had a reputation for being anti-Semitic. Young Einstein was the only Jew in his class and was constantly the target of anti-Semitism by his classmates. He vowed that he would never wear a German uniform if conscripted. In 1894, he received notice that he was to serve in the German Army. The family moved to Milan and gave up its German citizenship.

After many unsuccessful attempts, Einstein was admitted to the Eidgenossiche Technische Hochschule in Zurich, Switzerland.

Einstein wrote a number of noteworthy articles on physics in 1905. The most important was "On the Electrodynamics of Moving Bodies," which is known as the special theory of relativity. For the next 10 years, the physicists of the world gradually recognized the importance of Einstein's work. He accepted a professorship at the University of Zurich in 1909. This preceded many other university appointments.

In 1913, Einstein was elected a member of the Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin and was offered the directorship of scientific research at the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute for Physics. He accepted the offer with the condition that he didn't have to become a German citizen. In 1914, he moved to Berlin and remained there until 1933.

Einstein received the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921. When not involved with his scientific work, he was promoting peace and Zionism. He toured America with Chaim Welzmann and other Zionists and spoke in favor of support for the United Jewish Appeal and Israel.

The Nazis raided Einstein's home in Germany and put a price on his head when he was visiting the U.S. in 1933. He remained in the U.S. and became a citizen in 1940. He worked as a professor of theoretical physics at the Princeton University Institute for Advanced Study.

When Weizmann died, Einstein was asked to be a candidate for president of Israel. He declined since he said he wasn't a political person. He did become a trustee of Hebrew University and donated many of his original manuscripts to the school.

Einstein was constantly opposing Nazi Germany in his speeches and articles.In 1938, nuclear fission, which could lead to the development of the atomic bomb, was discovered in Germany. Einstein was urged by six physicists to write President Roosevelt to make him aware of the inherent dangers of Germany's developing an atomic bomb and to stress the need for America to develop one before the Germans. He did this with a heavy heart since he knew what kind of destruction an atomic bomb could cause. This famous letter helped change the course of history when America did develop the atomic bomb.

Einstein died in Princeton, on April 18, 1955. His contributions to the scientific world are immeasurable. He is also known for promoting Israel, fighting bigotry, fighting against the use of nuclear weapons and loving humanity.

Return to Table of Contents