Einstein celebrated his birthday for the first time on U.S. soil during the fateful year 1933. He had completed his third academic term at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, where he had received news of Hitler’s appointment as chancellor of Germany. By early March, the Nazi party had completed its rise to power.
Einstein had foreseen that he would never return to Germany. Just before leaving Pasadena for the east coast, in an interview with Evelyn Seely for the New York World Telegram on March 10, 1933, Einstein issued a statement: “As long as I have any choice in the matter, I shall live only in a country where civil liberty, tolerance, and equality for all citizens before the law prevail… These conditions do not exist in Germany at the present time.”
Just after the conclusion of his interview, at 5:54 p.m., a 6.4-magnitude earthquake centered in Long Beach rattled Southern California.
Two days later, Einstein and his wife Elsa departed by train for New York, where his 54th-birthday celebrations were underway. In his honor, an exhibition of his works together with “rare and valuable first editions, autographs, medals and portraits of the scientists on whose studies he built, including Copernicus, Kepler, Laplace, Galileo and Newton” was opened at Columbia University. On the morning of March 14, on a stopover in Chicago, Einstein attended a pacifist meeting, followed by lunch in his honor at the University of Chicago. The next day, in New York, Einstein was feted at a dinner of more than 600 at the Hotel Commodore, organized in support of the Jewish Telegraph Agency and the Hebrew University.
On March 16th he visited Princeton, where he met with Oscar Veblen and began in earnest to plan for his return in the fall to the newly founded Institute for Advanced Study. Going forward, he expected to split his time between Switzerland, Princeton, and Pasadena. On his 54th birthday, Einstein did not know that instead, Princeton would soon become his last and final hometown, where he would celebrate each of his subsequent twenty-two birthdays.
Diana Kormos Buchwald is professor of history at the California Institute of Technology. Diana is the general editor of the Einstein Papers Project. She is the co-editor of the latest The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 10: The Berlin Years: Correspondence, May-December 1920, and Supplementary Correspondence 1909-1920 (2006) & The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Volume 12: The Berlin Years: Correspondence, January-December 1921 (2009).
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