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Newly discovered photograph of Albert Einstein
Albert Einstein and Chaim Weizmann aboard of the SS Rotterdam, March 1921. Collection Center for Jewish History, New York.

by Wim Pijbes

ROTTERDAM.- In my research for the future museum on migration, the Fenix, a never before published photograph of Albert Einstein surfaced from the archives of the Center for Jewish History in New York. This is extremely seldom, since the life of Albert Einstein is very well documented and published. Thanks to his several letters, almost on a daily base, to scientists all over the world, his fame and well documented public life, we almost know everything of the whereabouts of Einstein. However, not this picture.

The newly discovered photograph was taken during his first trip to the US in 1921. This journey is well documented. He left the port of Rotterdam aboard of the SS Rotterdam, traveled first class with his wife Elsa. They departed March 23th, arrived on April 2nd in New York. Einstein travelled with Chaim Weizmann, who later would become the first president of Israel. On the way over, Einstein tried to explain relativity to Weizmann. Asked upon their arrival whether he understood the theory, Weizmann gave a puckish reply: “Einstein explained his theory to me every day, and by the time we arrived I was fully convinced that he really understands it.”

When the ship pulled up to the Battery in Lower Manhattan on the afternoon of April 2, Einstein was standing on the deck, wearing a black felt hat that concealed some but not all of his now-graying profusion of uncombed hair. One hand held a shiny briar pipe; the other clutched a worn violin case. “He looked like an artist,” The New York Times reported.

Thousands of spectators, along with the fife-and-drum corps of the Jewish Legion, were waiting in Battery Park when the mayor and other dignitaries brought Einstein ashore on a police tugboat. The crowd, waving blue-and-white flags, sang “The Star-Spangled Banner” and then the Zionist anthem, “Hatikvah.” The Einsteins and the Weizmanns intended to head directly for the Hotel Commodore, in Midtown. Instead, their motorcade wound through the Jewish neighborhoods of the Lower East Side late into the evening. “Every car had its horn, and every horn was put in action,” Weizmann recalled.

After this first trip, Einstein travelled back to Europe. Due to the upcoming NAZI regime, he definitely immigrated tot he US in 1933.

The Rotterdam Municipal Archive is digitizing all passengerlists. About three million migrants left Europa via Rotterdam to Ellis Island, a.o. Willem de Kooning, Johnny Weismüller, Thomas Mann, Lee Harvey Oswald and Dries van Kuik, alias Colonel Parker.

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