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On This Day: Albert Einstein arrives in America after fleeing Nazi Germany

The father of modern physics had been barred from working at any universities in his homeland and had his books publicly burned due to his religious background

OCTOBER 17, 1933: Albert Einstein arrived in America on this day in 1933 after he and thousands of other Jews fled persecution in Nazi Germany.

The father of modern physics had been barred from working at any universities in his homeland and had his books publicly burned due to his religious background.

Einstein, who became the world’s most famous scientists after winning the 1921 Nobel Prize for his theory of relativity, also learned he was on an assassinations list.

The racist regime put a bounty now worth £50,000 on his head while a German magazine included him in a list of the Nazis’ enemies who were 'not yet hanged'.

A British Pathé newsreel showed Einstein on a ship arriving in New York after sailing from England with hundreds of other German Jews escaping legalised anti-Semitism.

But they were the lucky ones.

Despite encouraging Jews to leave, the Nazis made it difficult by levying ever higher emigration taxes, restricting bank transfers and, finally, by refusing them passports.

At the same time Depression-hit foreign countries tried to limit refugees - with the U.S., for example, offering only 27,000 visas to 309,000 Jewish applicants in 1939.

Yet between January 1933, when Hitler was elected, and October 1941, when Jewish emigration was banned, 360,000 out of 523,000 German Jews still managed to leave.

Of the 163,000 who remained, the vast majority were among the six million Jews from across Europe to be murdered in Nazi ghettos and camps during the Holocaust.


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This death toll also includes thousands of German Jews who had fled to neighbouring France, Belgium and Holland before their being occupied by the Nazis in 1940.

Einstein, fearing the repercussions of Nazi government, first fled to Belgium in February 1933 before leaving for Britain in May.
Albert Einstein pictured in September 1933, shortly after fleeing Nazi Germany. (Rex)
While there he weighed up several university job offers – including one from Oxford – but chose to move to America and work at Princeton instead.

The atomic expert, who devised the famous E=mc² equation, decided to permanently settle there in 1935 and later applied for U.S. citizenship.


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Despite his previous pacifism, Einstein increasingly encouraged military action against Nazi Germany before the start of World War II in September 1939.

Only months before, he wrote to President Franklin D Roosevelt to suggest that the U.S. begin developing an atom bomb amid fears Germany would get one first.

It prompted the launch of the Manhattan Project, which succeeded in America developing, testing and using the first nuclear weapons – on Japan – in 1945.
Despite not taking a direct role in the research, Einstein, who was also a committed socialist and supporter of Israel, later regretted having suggested it.

In 1954, with both America and the Soviet Union threatening global annihilation during the Cold War, he wrote: 'I made one great mistake in my life — when I signed the letter to President Roosevelt recommending that atom bombs be made.


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'But there was some justification — the danger that the Germans would make them.'

He died the following year at age 76 after refusing surgery for a burst artery by saying: 'I want to go when I want. It is tasteless to prolong life artificially.

'I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.'