Thirty-one years earlier, on a late summer afternoon in 1921, I was the only stranded passenger in a small station on the frontier of Lithuania and Germany. I followed with my eyes the train that carried my parents; it left the platform and soon disappeared from sight. It was the end of our three years of wandering in Russia, in the Ukraine and the Caucasus, lands torn by civil war; perils of death were more than once only an arms length away as we sought to reach the land of Israel, the elusive goal of our striving. Now, finally, my parents were traveling toward the West, intending to continue from there to the land of Israel.
Waiting for a train that would take me back to Kovno (Kaunas), I found a rack with books at the newsstand. I purchased a small book on Einsteins theory. This was very possibly the first time I encountered the name. I had only recently emerged from what later became known as the Iron Curtainfrom the vast plain of a great country racked by war, disorganized and famished. Latvia and Lituania, where I now found myself, were independent republics. Hardly any news about scientific progress in the outside world reached the reading public in the Soviet Union in those years. However, it is possible that during the several weeks that I spent in Lithuania the name of Einstein could have already met my eyes from a page of a Kaunas newspaper. I had not yet heard of Minkowski; the name Lobachevsky was familiar to me. There in the station building, and then on the train on the way back to Kaunas, I read the purchased paperback, and I was electrified. The theories presented in it stirred in me an intense interest, and even emotion. Energy is a form of matter; time is a fourth coordinatein that first description of Einsteins theory that I read, ideas that had already visited me seemed to abound. I was rarely so struck by what I read as I was then.
Several weeks after parting with my parents at the train station in Lithuania, I came to Berlin by way of Stockholm to meet them again. I believe it was that very evening that my father told me that out of what was left him from all his possessions he would donate a large portion for a humanitarian purpose. Such were his ways all his life; he wished with the little means that he still had available to him to initiate something of great designhe thought of propaganda for peace. But I had a different idea, and my father agreed with me. My idea of organizing a series of scientific publications to serve as a platform for Jewish scholars around the world in preparation for the establishment of a Hebrew University in Jerusalem immediately appealed to him, and he offered me generously from his shrunken means to fund the Scripta.1
I met Prof. Heinrich Loewe, a librarian of Berlin University, and found in him an enthusiastic collaborator. We approached a number of eminent scholars of Jewish origin. The Jew was known the world over as a tradesman, but the renown of the nations scholars belonged to other peoples. Rothschild was a Jeweveryone knew this. But many of the great names of scienceHertz, Michelson, Ehrlich, Wasserman, Minkovski, Bohr and othersbelonged to the halls of fame of other nations.
Professor Loewe approached Einstein, and he agreed to be the editor of the part Mathematica et Physica. During the process of editing the papers in the section on Mathematics and Physics, I repeatedly met Einstein in his apartment in Berlin. He was then at the zenith of his fame, having been awarded the Nobel prize for physics in the previous year at the age of forty-one. His face was young, and framed by dark hair. I did not pretend to know much about the subjects discussed in the articles, and Einstein himself admitted to not being acquainted with several of the fields discussed by other authors. We had some interesting conversations. Still unconvinced that the Jewish nation needed to be preserved and not assimilated, he once remarked: Are not all races equally ancient? I called him to the window, next to which he had a small telescope, and asked him to look down on the street, and told him: Do you see those cobblestones of which the road is made? They are ancient, but they are not collected and preserved in a museum.
He was always friendly, as was also his wife, who was his cousin; it was she who regularly opened the door, and both of them would be at the door, friendly, when I would leave.
The work on Scripta progressed, and the eminence of the Jewish people in science and the humanities started to shine through. Some barriers had to be overcome, since the original works were to be printed not only in the language of their authors, but also in Hebrew translation. It fell to my task to create something like a collegium of translators, for at that time schools of higher learning did not exist in Hebrew, except Yeshivot. In many cases new terminology needed to be created. This work was partly helped by Sfotenu, two volumes of Hebrew terminology, published in Russia in former years with the funds of my father under the editorship of Dr. Joseph Klausner.
For two years I worked passionately on this undertaking. By the fall of 1923 over thirty bilingual monographs were printed. Most of them were subsequently united in two volumes, Mathematica et Physica, and Orientalia et Judaica.
In 1924 the British journal Nature, reviewing the volume on Mathematics and Physics, observed that if from a population of thirteen million Jewish people sprang talents like Edmund Landau, Karman, Hadamard, Einstein, Levi-Civita, Loria, Born, Landau and others, then clearly the Jewish nation was unusually rich in creative spirit and ability. The published volumes served the National Library in Jerusalem (later University Library of Jerusalem) for exchange with many scientific institutions for their publications.
I lived a number of years in what was then the British mandated territory of Palestine, working as a medical doctor. In 1928, after the death of my mother, I turned my interest to psychoanalysis. In the spring of 1930 I wrote on The Physical Existence of the World of Thought, to which Eugen Bleuler, the dean of world psychiatry, whom I came to know, wrote a preface, stressing the pioneering nature of my work and revealing that he had harbored very similar ideas.
In 1939 I came with my family for a sabbatical to the United States to complete research on a manuscript on Freud and his heroes. A few weeks later the World War started, and humankind was enveloped by catastrophe for the second time in the space of twenty five years.
In 1940 I approached Einstein and discussed with him a plan for the foundation of an Academy of Sciences in Jerusalembefore this I had started a series of scientific papers called Scripta Academica with a paper by Chaim Weizmann and E. Bergmann. Einstein added his signature to the list of those who agreed to participateit was headed by Franz Boas and Enrico Fermi.
Soon afterwards my research led me to an understanding that at the time of the Exodus an enormous natural catastrophe took placean understanding that brought me to a realization that the ancient history of the Near East needs synchronization, and natural history needs a reconstruction. I spent the next several years in libraries reading and writing. Two manuscripts, Worlds in Collision and Ages in Chaos, resulted from these years of labor.
After a period of six years, during which Einstein and I had not met, I went to Princeton to see him on July 5, 1946. His telephone was not listed, and the telephone office did not supply the information without checking with the scientist about whether he wished a particular party to be given his telephone number. He asked me to come on that day, and I took my daughter Shulamit with me. She had spent many mornings with me in discussing some aspects of the gravitational theory. At that time she was taking graduate courses at Columbia University, having received her honors degree in physics from Hunter College in New York. She was my silent companion.
I never thought I would ever discuss physical problems with Einstein. But, as explained above, my work on natural upheavals of the past led me to consequences which I could not disregard. Going now to see Einstein, I knew I would not be able to explain all that I had thought through about the role of electrical and magnetic forces in the solar system, although I had it in writing. He received us on the terrace at the back of his house, overlooking the yard with tall trees; he was wearing sandals, and greeted us with his unique kindness and smile. Two hours passed in a discussion, my daughter listening. I did not feel like saying"I have found some of the premises of the astronomers to be wrong ; my intent was to prepare him through the reading of my manuscript to wonder about the conflict that presents itself between the theory of changeless orbits and the conclusions that ask to be drawn from the material I had assembled. I left with him the first half of my manuscript of Worlds in Collision, the part dealing with Venus. Three days later he already wrote his answer:2
The letter contained one positive statement and two negative ones, expressed with vigor and finality not given to appeal or reconsideration. To have Einstein subscribe to the thesis of global catastrophes in historical times and, furthermore, to make him agree with the extraterrestrial origin of such events can be counted as an achievement: this acceptance immediately carried Einstein into the camp of the catastrophistsnot even a camp, because hardly anyone in the mid-twentieth century believed in the notion of global catastrophes. Astronomers had not produced a single man from among their ranks who would have conceded as much as Einstein did in that letter.
But I found no satisfaction in the concession obtained at the beginning of the letter because I hoped for more. I hoped that I would be able to continue the discussion started on July 5th and to lead it to the subject that was the purpose of that discussion, namely, the consequences for celestial mechanics that followed from the historical events presented in my work. My stand was later formulated in the Preface to Worlds in Collision: If, occasionally, historical evidence does not square with formulated laws, it should be remembered that a law is but a deduction from experience and experiment, and therefore laws must conform with historical facts, not facts with laws. I had planned to spread before Einstein the many facts that all point to the unjustified omittance of two all-pervading and interdependent natural forces, electricity and magnetism, from all and every consideration of being active agents in the plan of the universe, and in the mechanics of the solar system.
Now the discussion was cut short before we reached the theme; Einstein called off our next meeting and there was no point in asking him to read the second part of the manuscript. It appeared also that he was under the impression that he had seen the entire manuscript, whereas it was but the first folder that I had left with him.
Had I been insecure in my work and its conclusions, this would have been the moment to reappraise the entire endeavor. But I was so completely convinced of my theses that my reaction was not of re-orientation in order to salvage what to Einstein appeared as valuable in my manuscript and thus to secure a good chance of publishing it. It was a short-lived regret that my effort with Einstein was luckless. I wrote to him on July 16, 1946:
My efforts, accordingly, were directed to the following tasks:
First, to have one of the conclusions of my work, identifying Venus as the agent which caused the great global catastrophe, checked by a physical method, namely by spectroscopy on the presence of hydrocarbons, and already before approaching Einstein I had approached the Harvard College Observatory with the request of having this specific test made. The description of that step and the correspondence that ensued during April and May find their place in a separate publication.3
Second, to have my works implications for celestial mechanics presented to a limited circle of specialists in a concise form, with physical facts being the only material of discussion. In this way I would be able to hear criticism of these implications in and of themselves, apart from the historical-mythological material which inspired them.
Thirdly, I decided not to postpone any longer and to inquire into the possibility of presenting my manuscript in book form to the scholarly world.