The Last Week
When I returned home I did what I had never before felt the need to do. Thinking of that part of our conversation where Eintein announced that he could explain all the phenomena described in my book without recourse to electromagnetic interplays, and realizing that I should have stuck to this subject during our conversation, I wrote down how the dialogue went and how it should have gone.
It took me a full week to prepare the few details for Einstein so that he could write to Dr. W. C. Hayes of the Metropolitan Museum concerning the desired radiocarbon testsbut the real cause of my procrastination was my desire to answer Einstein on two points of our debate. Is it possible to measure the charge of the Earth with an electroscope? Is it feasible that the sun may be charged? One of my critics, Laurence Lafleur, of whom Einstein read in File II of Stargazers and Gravediggers, asserted in Scientific Monthly in an article directed against me that if the Earth were charged, an electroscope would show this. Surprisingly, Einstein thought, too, that an electroscope would reveal whether the terrestrial globe were charged: since the foils are not repelled from one other when an electroscope touches the ground, the globe must be neutral. In the beginning of the week, actually on Tuesday, the 12th of April, I traveled to New York and conferred with Lloyd Motz at Columbia University, on the upper floor of the Michael Puppin Building, as I had done so many times before. He agreed with me that an electroscope would not disclose a charge of the ground. I, of course, counted on the probability that the charge of the Earth as a planet is concentrated on the peripherythe charge of a conducting object is usually spread on the surfaceand that either the ionosphere is charged, or that above the ionosphere there are layers of greater intensity of charge.
I invited Dr. Cunningham, a young physicist, then on the staff of the Forrestal Center near Princeton, to spend an evening with me. We discussed the same question: whether one can prove with the help of an electroscopetwo golden foils at the end of a rod, inside a jarthat the Earth is neutral. Parallel streams of particles moving not only through the foils but also around and alongside them would keep the foils together; thus an electroscope would not reveal whether the groundand hence the globe in its entiretyis neutral. Dr. Cunningham agreed with me and explained in greater detail why this is so.
Next we discussed the charge on the sun, and Dr. Cunningham maintained that the sun not only can be charged positively, but that it must be charged so, and this due to the circumstance that electrons have a much greater mobility than the protons, and thus many more electrons must have left the sun before the relatively slow-moving protons could do the same, and the protons thus left behind would be responsible for the positive charge of the sun. Thereafter positive and negative particles would leave the sun in equal numbers, but the original surplus of positive particles would permanently keep the sun positively charged. Thus in theory the sun not only can be charged, but must be so.
I, however, considered the whole solar system as a unit and a surplus of one sign charge on the sun would be neutralized by a surplus of the other sign charge on the planets, especially the larger planets, primarily Jupiter.
During that week I went also a few times to New York to work with Mrs. Kathryn Tebbel on the manuscript of Earth in Upheaval, which she was in the process of copyediting. This absorbed the week. By Friday, April 15th, I had prepared the necessary explanation of what should be asked from Dr. Hayes of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and had also put into writing my answer to the two problems Einstein and I had discussed: the measurement of the Earths charge by an electroscope, and whether the sun carries a positive charge.
In addition I answered in some detail Einsteins question about the basis for my prediction of the radionoises from Jupiter. Finally, I enclosed a clipping from a New York Times article of April 12, 1955 about magnetic stars. It read as follows:
On Friday, April 15th, armed with these materials, I telephoned Einsteins home. I wished to see him. Miss Dukas as usual answered the telephone. How is Professor? I prepared . . .
But Miss Dukas answered in a sad voice: Oh, dear Doctor, we are awaiting the ambulance to take Professor to the hospital. In less than an hour the ambulance must arrive. Since Wednesday he has felt very strong pains. Dr. Dean says it is of gall bladder that is very hot and painful. My heart sank.
Einstein could suffer pain without complaining. He would not have agreed to go to a hospital were there not a great need for that. Miss Dukas sounded very worried. I asked her to call me the next day, and to tell of Einsteins state of health. The next day, Saturday, I had a worried call from Dukas. She was alarmed. Einstein awaited his son from California. But the world, the town, and even close acquaintances were kept ignorant of Einsteins sickness and the fact that he had been hospitalized. I kept the secret too.
The day thereafter, on Sunday, Dukas called and said: It is better, definitely better. His son arrived from California. He wished to have him here. Einsteins physician wished to perform surgeryas I understood for gall bladderbut the Professor refusedwith humor, but firmly; he said that he did not wish to be cut. A little reassured, but not in full measure, I spoke a sentence or two of our meeting nine days earlier and repeated Einsteins words about my book. It was an achievement of eighteen months of struggle; probably I should not have at that hour thought about my work and about what Einstein said at our last meeting. but it was as if I wished to be near him and talk to him again; I felt gratitude to him, the great scientist who through months of sickness occupied himself with my ideas and read my manuscripts and books at a time when the scientific world with its press was cruel to me.
Sunday passedI do not remember whether we had another call from Dukas or not. It would not have been proper to call the hospital.
The following night I slept peacefully and, if I remember right, Elisheva and I both dreamt of Einstein. At eight in the morning I went to our garden, where the forsythia were already in bloom. I met Mrs. Baker, the neighbor, who said: Have you heard on the radio? Dr. Einstein died this night.
In silence I moved away and said the Hebrew prayer for the dead that is supposed to be said by a son after his fathers or mothers death, in a congregation of not less than ten men, but that after the death of my mother I would often say walking along a road on the ridge of Mt. Carmel. The last sentence of it reads: He who established peace in the sky will bring peace to you and the entire Israel! The words peace in the sky or peace on high have a meaning in the light of events illuminated in my Worlds in Collision, and I think the rabbis who composed the prayer in ancient times had those events in mind. Einstein became a paternal figure to me, and though our meetings took place only once in a while, during these eighteen months we were often in each others thoughts.
The morning newspapers had no word about Einstein; his sickness, his being in the hospital, were known only to a few people, besides the personnel of the hospital, and did not leak to the press; therefore when he died in the night from Sunday to Monday, the New York Times and other always well-informed papers appeared with nothing even remotely foreboding the death of the most famous man on earth.
I went to the hospital. On the way I met Dr. Irving Levey, the Jewish chaplain of the University, on a bicyclealready on his way back from the hospital. We hardly exchanged a few wordsthere was nothing to say.
The begrudging press, which learned the sad news from the radio after an announcement by the hospital, hurriedly sent their correspondents, who tried to pry something out of anybody entering. Margot Einstein was sick in bed in the same hospital and in her room the inner circle gatheredonly five or six persons. At first I was not admittedto the inner circle I did not belong. Dr. V. Bargmann, physicist and close collaborator of Einstein arrived simultaneously with me and went up. Leaving the building I was met in the courtyard by Mrs. Ladenburg, the widow of a physicist and a close friend of the family, and she insisted on my going with her to Margots room. I was too passive to resist.
In her room I saw for the first time Hans Einstein, the son, professor of agricultural engineering in California; he looked handsome and unexpectedly young. The few who were in the room stood at the wall next to the window, but in shade. Margot, always very kind to me, stretched her hands to me from her bed. I said nothing. Dukas came close to me from the row of the standing figures with dimly lit faces along the wall and spoke to me softly and quickly, narrating how everything happened; I listened but do not know what I heard. I brushed a tear from my eye and without having said a single word left the room. In the hall again a newspaperman started to question me. I advised him to clear his story with Helen Dukas at a later time.
At the time I was in the hospital, only a few hours after Einsteins death, the autopsy was being performed; it was found that Einstein had died of a bleeding aorta, a painful process that, as I learned later, was already chronic with him. And his brain, still warm, was being taken from the opened skull by Dr. Thomas Harvey, the hospitals pathologist, a pleasant and thinking man, shy too; but how could he drill into Einsteins head and pry open his skull? I had the feeling that all was done in a hurry. It seemed to me almost as if the brain still had its molecules moving in a thinking or feeling process. Dazed, I hurried from the hospital and went home.
Einstein ordered in his will that his body should be cremated, and only his brain should be used for scientific purposes. His body was cremated not far from the city borough that very day, so that when the next days papers printed their story, they had to tell in one single issue of his disease, death, and cremation.
I did not feel like going to the library or working at my desk. I took the family (our daughter Ruth had moved recently from California with her husband) into the car, and drove for over an hour in a great circle on country roads around Princeton, past blossoming orchards, with the sky wide open over the spring ground. At that very hour Einsteins ashes, atomized to elements, were being spread over the fields in the afternoon spring breeze. He was consumed by fire and his physical remains returned and mingled with the cosmos and became a part of it, inseparable and anonymous.
Nine days earlier we had brought close to conclusion a protracted debate. I will not let thee go unless thou bless me. I thought of the words I once wrote to him. I thought also of the longing look with which he followed the birds flying in formation back from their winter quarters, before the dusk when we sat that last time in his study, facing the window. Do you see the birds flying? he asked me. But now in my memory it sounded as if he had said: Let me go.
Gina Plungian who arrived the same day went with Helen Dukas to the study to find how everything had been left there the Friday before. On Einsteins table close to the window was Worlds in Collision in German, with many strips of paper between the pages, and open on some page. It was the last book that he read, actually re-read for the third time, each time differently impressed. I was also the last man with whom he discussed a scientific subject (besides a doctor friend from Switzerland, with whom, as I was told by Miss Dukas, about the time of my last visit he also discussed some scientific matter).
The subject we discussed was brought to the finale. Especially grateful I was for the two long evening sessions in March when we read line by line my short essay. Only then did he really understand my thoughts.
I never discussed with him the Theory of Relativity. But by implication it was involved in our debate and even very heavily.
Days passed. The town of Princeton was orphaned but went its normal way. I had the sensation as though I had lost my father for the second time. I could not know him as closely as some others knew him, like Miss Dukas, who was his secretary for twenty-six years. But there was some special bond forged, a kindness and an empathyand now the link was torn and the town became empty for me. His associates took it much easier, or so it appeared to me. Several days later Margot lost her pet bird which she had taught to share with her hours of vigil and sleep and who ate from her lips, and she was grieving over the bird. Miss Dukas was lifted by the great responsibility that now fell on her, with the archive and manuscripts, and she was up to this, and soon she was even more resolute than ever.
In the daily press one could read that there was already strife over who, the Montefiore Hospital in New York, or the Princeton Hospital, should have the brain of the deceased for study. Later there was some compromise achieved. When years afterward I asked Dr. Harvey, who sliced the brain, whether he found any unusual traits, he, in his shy and modest way, admitted that no unusual traits in form, volutions, or size were observed. If anywhere or anytime there was need to show how little we know of the human soul and its housing in matter, here was the case.