Einstein's 1941 Letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, Begging Asylum for Jewish Refugees

Historical Treasures, Oddities, And Delights
Dec. 13 2013 11:40 AM

Einstein's 1941 Letter to Eleanor Roosevelt, Begging Asylum for Jewish Refugees

The Vault is Slate's history blog. Like us on Facebook, follow us on Twitter @slatevault, and find us on Tumblr. Find out more about what this space is all about here.

In this 1941 letter, prominent physicist Albert Einstein wrote to first lady Eleanor Roosevelt, asking her to intercede with her “heavily burdened husband” on behalf of  “worthy persons who are the victims of Fascist cruelty in Europe.”

Einstein, who became an American citizen in 1940, worked actively to help individual scientists, artists, and intellectuals endangered in Nazi Europe to enter the United States. Because the German state had accused many of these people of being Communists, Einstein’s intercession was seen as a suspicious practice, and earned mention in the scientist’s extensive FBI file.

Advertisement

This letter shows that Einstein also lobbied on behalf of the larger group of refugees, leveraging his public profile to ask the Roosevelts to work harder to overcome red tape and quotas that impeded emigration.

Eleanor Roosevelt wrote on the bottom of this letter that she would bring the matter to FDR’s attention. Facing political pressure, and fearing that emigration would introduce spies into the United States, the president had recently failed to act on a few measures to increase quotas for specific populations. The letter doesn’t appear to have had any effect on his approach.

Einstein had written a famous letter (PDF) to FDR in August, 1939, that was more successful. That missive warned of advancements that would make nuclear chain reactions possible, and urged American governmental investment in the scientific community working on the problem. FDR listened; the Manhattan Project was born.

The FDR Library has recently launched new, fun-to-browse digital collections, where I found this letter.

EinsteinToEleanor
Albert Einstein to Eleanor Roosevelt, July 26, 1941.

FDR Library, Digital Collections.

TODAY IN SLATE

Medical Examiner

Here’s Where We Stand With Ebola

Even experienced international disaster responders are shocked at how bad it’s gotten.

Why Are Lighter-Skinned Latinos and Asians More Likely to Vote Republican?

A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 12:29 PM A Woman Who Escaped the Extreme Babymaking Christian Fundamentalism of Quiverfull

Subprime Loans Are Back

And believe it or not, that’s a good thing.

It Is Very Stupid to Compare Hope Solo to Ray Rice

Building a Better Workplace

In Defense of HR

Startups and small businesses shouldn’t skip over a human resources department.

How Ted Cruz and Scott Brown Misunderstand What It Means to Be an American Citizen

Divestment Is Fine but Mostly Symbolic. There’s a Better Way for Universities to Fight Climate Change.

  News & Politics
Over There
Sept. 22 2014 1:29 PM “That’s Called Jim Crow” Philip Gourevitch on America’s hypocritical interventions in Africa.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 22 2014 5:38 PM Apple Won't Shut Down Beats Music After All (But Will Probably Rename It)
  Life
Atlas Obscura
Sept. 23 2014 9:01 AM Tristan Da Cunha: Life on the World's Most Remote Island
  Double X
The XX Factor
Sept. 22 2014 7:43 PM Emma Watson Threatened With Nude Photo Leak for Speaking Out About Women's Equality
  Slate Plus
Slate Plus
Sept. 22 2014 1:52 PM Tell Us What You Think About Slate Plus Help us improve our new membership program.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 23 2014 8:46 AM How Men Talk About Relationships in Rom-Coms: While Playing Sports
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 22 2014 6:27 PM Should We All Be Learning How to Type in Virtual Reality?
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Sept. 23 2014 7:00 AM I Stand with Emma Watson
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 18 2014 11:42 AM Grandmaster Clash One of the most amazing feats in chess history just happened, and no one noticed.