The Einstein Factor

Eduard Einstein's future seemed to be a bright one.

Born in 1910 as the younger son of physicist Albert Einstein and his first wife, Mileva Maric, his early academic ability was apparent enough.  Despite frequent illness throughout his childhood, Eduard enjoyed a warm relationship with both of his parents although he was especially close to his mother who gave him the nickname "Tede".   Both Eduard and his older brother, Hans Albert, were deeply affected after their parents divorced in 1919 although Mileva and Albert did their best to ensure their children's welfare.   Despite Albert's remarriage, he continued to play an active role in his sons' lives as they grew up in Zurich (he referred to them both as "die Barchen"-little bears).  The prize money that Albert received after winning the Nobel prize in 1921 was placed in trust for both boys (although their mother could draw upon the interest as needed).

Although his time was often taken up by his work, Albert tried to see his sons when he could.  Travel from Berlin to Zurich was often difficult due to the political climate.  As a prominent Jew, Albert Einstein was a natural target for the rising antisemitism of the time, especially with the growing Nazi movement.  "Anti-Einstein" rallies were common and the ten-hour train ride from Berlin to Zurich could be dangerous at times.  His frequent absences had a strong effect on Eduard who often railed against his absent father.  While Albert was proud of both his sons, he and Mileva grew increasingly worried about Eduard's frequent illnesses and early signs of emotional instability.  Since Mileva's sister, Zorka, suffered from mental illness, both parents were well aware of the familial risks despite Eduard's passion for learning and his amazing memory. It would be later said of him that "Eduard inherited from his father the facial traits and the musical talents, from his mother the tendency to melancholy".

A sensitive child, Eduard often wrote poetry and had planned to study medicine (he wanted to become a Freudian analyst).  Throughout his late adolescence and early adulthood, he became increasingly moody, 43_Eduard_Einstein__Einsteins_Sohn_Eduard_2224[1] withdrawn, and suicidal.  Treatment with various doctors (including Sigmund Freud himself) had little benefit and he was later diagnosed with schizophrenia.  In 1932, Eduard was placed in the University of Zurich psychiatric hospital, Burgholzli for the first time.  Although he would later be released into his mother's care whenever his condition improved,  he would eventually spend the rest of his life in and out of the hospital.  Despite the trust fund that had been established for Eduard by his father, his mother was overwhelmed by the costs of his medical care and was forced to sell two of the three houses that she owned.  To prevent the loss of her one remaining house, Mileva transferred ownership to Albert in 1933.

By 1932, the political situation in Europe had worsened.  Albert and his second wife, Elsa, traveled to the United States and a new position at Princeton University.  Although he had initially planned to shuttle between Princeton and his academic posting in Berlin, Hitler's coming to power on January 30, 1933 changed all that.  Albert renounced his German citizenship and arranged to stay in the US but returned to Europe that year to wrap up his affairs and deliver several lectures at different European universities.  At Mileva's request, Albert went to Switzerland one last time to see Eduard.  It was a heartbreaking experience for the physicist since there was little sign of the Eduard that he had known.  After playing his violin for Eduard and failing to get any response, he left Burgholzi.  Albert returned to Princeton and never saw Mileva or Eduard again.  Hans Albert Einstein, already married and with children of his own emigrated to the US in 1938.  Unfortunately, this was not an option for Eduard given the rigid immigration policies of the time (it was a marvel that Albert was allowed in, given his socialist leanings). 

The onset of World War II made life difficult for both Eduard and Mileva.  As it was, however, they were both very fortunate in being Swiss nationals.  Even if Eduard had somehow managed to survive Aktion T4 which led to the deaths of thousands of mental patients across Nazi-occupied Europe, he (and possibly even his mother) would certainly have died in the Holocaust that followed (as did many of Albert`s relatives).  The end of the war in 1945 brought little relief.  The financial and emotional burden of caring for her invalid son overwhelmed Mileva whose only real income involved giving private tutoring in mathematics and piano.  When Mileva died in 1948, she was penniless and was buried in Zurich's Nordheim cemetery in an unmarked grave.  With his mother gone, Eduard was permanently institutionalized at Burgholzli.  While Albert continued to provide financially for his younger son until his own death in 1955, there was no direct contact between them.  On more than one occasion, Albert went so far as to say that it would have been better if Eduard had not been born.

Despite Eduard having little contact with the outside world, his illustrious surname and his status as the son of the world's widely renowned physicist ensured that he was not completely forgotten.  He died of a stroke in 1965 and only survived his famous father by ten years. Buried in Zurich's Honggerberg Cemetery (in a different cemetery from his beloved mother), he has been largely overlooked in death.  While there is still controversy over the circumstances that led to Albert's divorce from Mileva and whether he neglected his family in Zurich, there is little surviving information surrounding the early signs of Eduard's mental illness.  Athough Eduard's case has often been used to generate public interest in schizophrenia, he continues to be as much a mystery in death as he was in life.


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