The World As I See It

Albert Einstein

Part 9

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For the last two thousand years the common property of the Jewish people has consisted entirely of its past. Scattered over the wide world, our nation possessed nothing in common except its carefully guarded tradition. Individual Jews no doubt produced great work, but it seemed as if the Jewish people as a whole had not the strength left for great collective achievements.

Now all that is changed. History has set us a great and n.o.ble task in the shape of active cooperation in the building up of Palestine. Eminent members of our race are already at work with all their might on the realization of this aim. The opportunity is presented to us of setting up centres of civilization which the whole Jewish people can regard as its work. We nurse the hope of erecting in Palestine a home of our own national culture which shall help to awaken the near East to new economic and spiritual life.

The object which the leaders of Zionism have in view is not a political but a social and cultural one. The community in Palestine must approach the social ideal of our forefathers as it is laid down in the Bible, and at the same time become a seat of modern intellectual life, a spiritual centre for the Jews of the whole world. In accordance with this notion, the establishment of a Jewish university in Jerusalem const.i.tutes one of the most important aims of the Zionist organization.

During the last few months I have been to America in order to help to raise the material basis for this university there. The success of this enterprise was quite natural. Thanks to the untiring energy and splendid self-sacrificing spirit of the Jewish doctors in America, we have succeeded in collecting enough money for the creation of a medical faculty, and the preliminary work isbeing started at once. After this success I have no doubt that the material basis for the other faculties will soon be forthcoming. The medical faculty is first of all to be developed as a research inst.i.tute and to concentrate on making the country healthy, a most important item in the work of development. Teaching on a large scale will only become important later on. As a number of highly competent scientific workers have already signified their readiness to take up appointments at the university, the establishment of a medical faculty seems to be placed beyond all doubt. I may add that a special fund for the university, entirely distinct from the general fund for the development of the country, has been opened. For the latter considerable sums have been collected during these months in America, thanks to the indefatigable labours of Professor Weizmann and other Zionist leaders, chiefly through the self-sacrificing spirit of the middle I conclude with a warm appeal to the Jews in Germany to contribute all they can, in spite of the present economic difficulties, for the building up of the Jewish home in Palestine. This is not a matter of charity, but an enterprise which concerns all Jews and the success of which promises to be a source of the highest satisfaction to all.


For us Jews Palestine is not just a charitable or colonial enterprise, but a problem of central importance for the Jewish people. Palestine is not primarily a place of refuge for the Jews of Eastern Europe, but the embodiment of the re-awakening corporate spirit of the whole Jewish nation. Is it the right moment for this corporate sense to be awakened and strengthened? This is a question to which I feel compelled, not merely by my spontaneous feelings but on rational grounds, to return an unqualified "yes."

Let us just cast our eyes over the history of the Jews in Germany during the past hundred years. A century ago our forefathers, with few exceptions, lived in the ghetto. They were poor, without political rights, separated from the Gentiles by a barrier of religious traditions, habits of life, and legal restrictions; their intellectual development was restricted to their own literature, and they had remained almost unaffected by the mighty advance of the European intellect which dates from the Renaissance. And yet these obscure, humble people had one great advantage over us each of them belonged in every fibre of his being to a community m which he was completely absorbed, in which he felt himself a fully pnvileged member, and which demanded nothing of him that was contrary to his natural habits of thought. Our forefathers in those days were pretty poor specimens intellectually and physically, but socially speaking they enjoyed an enviable spiritual equilibrium.

Then came emanc.i.p.ation, which suddenly opened up undreamed-of possibilities to the individual. Some few rapidly made a position for themselves in the higher walks of business and social life. They greedily lapped up the splendid triumphs which the art and science of the Western world had achieved. They joined in the process with burning enthusiasm, themselves making contributions of lasting value. At the same time they imitated the external forms of Gentile life, departed more and more from their religious and social traditions, and adopted Gentile customs, manners, and habits of thought. It seemed as though they were completely losing their ident.i.ty in the superior numbers and more highly organized culture of the nations among whom they lived, so that in a few generations there would be no trace of them left. A complete disappearance of Jewish nationality in Central and Western Europe seemed inevitable.

But events turned out otherwise. Nationalities of different race seem to have an instinct which prevents them from fusing. However much the Jews adapted themselves, in language, manners, and to a great extent even in the forms of religion, to the European peoples among whom they lived, the feeling of strangeness between the Jews and their hosts never disappeared. This spontaneous feeling is the ultimate cause of anti-Semitism, which is therefore not to be got rid of by well-meaning propaganda. Nationalities want to pursue their own path, not to blend. A satisfactory state of affairs can be brought about only by mutual toleration and respect.

The first step in that direction is that we Jews should once more become conscious of our existence as a nationality and regain the self-respect that is necessary to a healthy existence. We must learn once more to glory in our ancestors and our history and once again take upon ourselves, as a nation, cultural tasks of a sort calculated to strengthen our sense of the community. It is not enough for us to play a part as individuals in the cultural development of the human race, we must also tackle tasks which only nations as a whole can perform. Only so can the Jews regain social health.

It is from this point of view that I would have you look at the Zionist movement. To-day history has a.s.signed to us the task of taking an active part in the economic and cultural reconstruction of our native land. Enthusiasts, men of brilliant gifts, have cleared the way, and many excellent members of our race are prepared to devote themselves heart and soul to the cause. May every one of them fully realize the importance of this work and contribute, according to his powers, to its success!

The Jewish Community

A speech in London

Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is no easy matter for me to overcome my natural inclination to a life of quiet contemplation. But I could not remain deaf to the appeal of the O.R.T. and O.Z.E. societies*; for in responding to it I am responding, as it were, to the appeal of our sorely oppressed Jewish nation.

The position of our scattered Jewish community is a moral barometer for the political world. For what surer index of political morality and respect for justice can there be than the att.i.tude of the nations towards a defenceless minority, whose peculiarity lies in their preservation of an ancient cultural tradition?

*Jewish charitable a.s.sociations.

This barometer is low at the present moment, as we are painfully aware from the way we are treated. But it is this very lowness that confirms me in the conviction that it is our duty to preserve and consolidate our community.

Embedded in the tradition of the Jewish people there is a love of justice and reason which must continue to work for the good of all nations now and in the future. In modern times this tradition has produced Spinoza and Karl Marx.

Those who would preserve the spirit must also look after the body to which it is attached. The O.Z.E. society literally looks after the bodies of our people.

In Eastern Europe it is working day and night to help our people there, on whom the economic depression has fallen particularly heavily, to keep body and soul together; while the O.R.T. society is trying to get rid of a severe social and economic handicap under which the Jews have laboured since the Middle Ages. Because we were then excluded from all directly productive occupations, we were forced into the purely commercial ones. The only way of really helping the Jew in Eastern countries is to give him access to new fields of activity, for which he is struggling all over the world. This is the grave problem which the O.R.T. society is successfully tackling.

It is to you English fellow-Jews that we now appeal to help us in this great enterprise which splendid men have set on foot. The last few years, nay, the last few days, have brought us a disappointment which must have touched you in particular nearly. Do not gird at fate, but rather look on these events as a reason for remaining true to the cause of the Jewish commonwealth. I am convinced that in doing that we shall also indirectly be promoting those general human ends which we must always recognize as the highest.

Remember that difficulties and obstacles are a valuable source of health and strength to any society. We should not have survived for thousands of years as a community if our bed had been of roses; of that I am quite sure.

But we have a still fairer consolation. Our friends are not exactly numerous, but among them are men of n.o.ble spirit and strong sense of justice, who have devoted their lives to uplifting human society and liberating the individual from degrading oppression.

We are happy and fortunate to have such men from the Gentile world among us to-night; their presence lends an added solemnity to this memorable evening. It gives me great pleasure to see before me Bernard Shaw and H. G.

Wells, to whose view of life I am particularly attracted.

You, Mr. Shaw, have succeeded in winning the affection and joyous admiration of the world while pursuing a path that has led many others to a martyr's crown. You have not merely preached moral sermons to your fellows; you have actually mocked at things which many of them held sacred.

You have done what only the born artist can do. From your magic box you have produced innumerable little figures which, while resembling human beings, are compact not of flesh and blood, but of brains, wit, and charm.

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And yet in a way they are more human than we are ourselves, and one almost forgets that they are creations not of Nature, but of Bernard Shaw. You make these charming little figures dance in a miniature world in front of which the Graces stand sentinel and permit no bitterness to enter. He who has looked into this little world sees our actual world in a new light; its puppets insinuate themselves into real people, making them suddenly look quite different. By thus holding the mirror up to us all you have had a liberating effect on us such as hardly any other of our contemporaries has done and have relieved life of something of its earth-bound heaviness. For this we are all devoutly grateful to you, and also to fate, which along with grievous plagues has also given us the physician and liberator of our souls. I personally am also grateful to you for the unforgettable words which you have addressed to my mythical namesake who makes life so difficult for me, although he is really, for all his clumsy, formidable size, quite a harmless fellow.

Driven by the suggestive influence of this psychological superiority rather than by utilitarian considerations, he turns his back on his people and his traditions, and considers himself as belonging entirely to the others while he tries in vain to conceal from himself and them the fact that the relation is not reciprocal.

Hence that pathetic creature, the baptized Jewish Geheimrat of yesterday and to-day. In most cases it is not pushfulness and lack of character that have made him what he is, but, as I have said, the suggestive power of an environment superior in numbers and influence. He knows, of course, that many admirable sons of the Jewish people have made important contributions to the glory of European civilization; but have they not all, with a few exceptions, done much the same as he?

In this case, as in many mental disorders, the cure lies in a clear knowledge of one's condition and its causes. We must be conscious of our alien race and draw the logical conclusions from it. It is no use trying to convince the others of our spiritual and intellectual equality by arguments addressed to the reason, when their att.i.tude does not originate in their intellects at all. Rather must we emanc.i.p.ate ourselves socially and supply our social needs, in the main, ourselves. We must have our own students' societies and adopt an att.i.tude of courteous but consistent reserve to the Gentiles. And let us live after our own fashion there and not ape duelling and drinking customs which are foreign to our nature. It is possible to be a civilized European and a good citizen and at the same time a faithful Jew who loves his race and honours his fathers. If we remember this and act accordingly, the problem of anti-Semitism, in so far as it is of a social nature, is solved for us.

A Letter to Professor Dr. h.e.l.lpach, Minister of State

Dear Herr h.e.l.lpach,

I have read your article on Zionism and the Zurich Congress and feel, as a strong devotee of the Zionist idea, that I must answer you, even if it is only shortly.

The Jews are a community bound together by ties of blood and tradition, and not of religion only: the att.i.tude of the rest of the world towards them is sufficient proof of this. When I came to Germany fifteen years ago I discovered for the first time that I was a Jew, and I owe this discovery more to Gentiles than Jews.

The tragedy of the Jews is that they are people of a definite historical type, who lack the support of a community to keep them together. The result is a want of solid foundations in the individual which amounts in its extremer forms to moral instability. I realized that the only possible salvation for the race was that every Jew in the world should become attached to a living society to which the individual rejoiced to belong and which enabled him to bear the hatred and the humiliations that he has to put up with from the rest of the world.

I saw worthy Jews basely caricatured, and the sight made my heart bleed. I saw how schools, comic papers, and innumerable other forces of the Gentile majority undermined the confidence even of the best of my fellow-Jews, and felt that this could not be allowed to continue.

Then I realized that only a common enterprise dear to the hearts of Jews all over the world could restore this people to health. It was a great achievement of Herzl's to have realized and proclaimed at the top of his voice that, the traditional att.i.tude of the Jews being what it was, the establishment of a national home or, more accurately, a centre in Palestine, was a suitable object on which to concentrate our efforts.

All this you call nationalism, and there is something in the accusation. But a communal purpose, without which we can neither live nor die in this hostile world, can always be called by that ugly name. In any case it is a nationalism whose aim is not power but dignity and health. If we did not have to live among intolerant, narrow-minded, and violent people, I should be the first to throw over all nationalism in favour of universal humanity.

The objection that we Jews cannot be proper citizens of the German State, for example, if we want to be a "nation," is based on a misunderstanding of the nature of the State which springs from the intolerance of national majorities. Against that intolerance we shall never be safe, whether we call ourselves a "people" (or "nation") or not.

I have put all this with brutal frankness for the sake of brevity, but I know from your writings that you are a man who attends to the sense, not the form.

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