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    Albert Einstein Typed Letter Signed. One page, 8" x 10", Princeton, New Jersey, April 4, 1938, on "The Institute for Advanced Study, School of Mathematics, Fine Hall" letterhead to Dr. Hugo Iltis of Brünn, Czechoslovakia. This letter is part of Einstein's attempt to save the life of a fellow Jewish scientist threatened by the German Nazi Party. Einstein, who had shared at least two previous letters with Dr. Iltis, certainly understood the difficult situation that the professor faced. He had fled Germany in 1933 when Hitler took power, and that same year, he had renounced his German citizenship. He had begun his new life in the U.S. as a professor at Princeton, where he taught until his death in 1955. Einstein and Iltis were not the only scientists to flee the advancement of the Nazi regime. Throughout the 1930s, nearly half of all theoretical physics professors in Germany and fourteen Nobel laureates emigrated to other places.

    In this letter, Einstein advises Dr. Iltis to follow his footsteps and emigrate to the U.S. He also gives Iltis advice on the best way to safely and quickly accomplish that. The letter, written in German, reads in full:

    "Dear. Mr. Iltis:

    "You are certainly right in your endeavor to emigrate to the U.S.A. However, I think you should come first yourself instead of sending your wife in advance, for it certainly would not be of any help should she get a job in a household. You should use your scientific connections to obtain a temporary invitation as a paid lecturer, and then use your presence in this country to attain a permanent appointment. He who is not personally present cannot achieve anything, above all if one considers the increasingly great number of people wishing to gain entrance. I myself am living in a very secluded manner, and thus have no connections. On the other hand, I am well known enough to write to any place for the benefit of a man. This I would like to do if you would name the place for me. You should contact this place yourself, stating all available references, including mine too, for example. If you find anything it will not be difficult to let your family come later.

    "With friendly regards,
    "Yours,
    [signed] A. Einstein."

    Einstein did not live in such a "very secluded manner" with "no connections" as he claimed. Nineteen days after writing this letter, he wrote the influential anthropologist Franz Boas, a political activist involved in the anti-fascist struggle and another German-born Jewish intellectual émigré. As Einstein knew, Boas had vast academic connections throughout the U.S. Thus he wrote Boas on April 23, 1938, "In these times of general distress, when all influential people are being inundated by many letters and appeals for help, it becomes doubly difficult for me to bother you with the problems of a single individual. However, in the case of Professor Iltis of Brünn I must make an exception. . . . He is 'politically suspect', and as a consequence of the present political situation his life in Czechoslovakia is threatened."

    In the meantime, Dr. Iltis followed Einstein's advice as much as possible. He left
    his family behind and took a plane from Prague to England on the last flight out prior to stricter passport controls being enforced by the Nazis, who were working in collaboration with the new German-leaning government in Czechoslovakia. Iltis' wife, Anni, and sons, fifteen-year-old Wilfried and thirteen-year-old Hellmut (changed to Hugh), followed three weeks later after a harrowing train ride across Germany. The family reunited in Cherbourg, France, where they boarded the Aquitania, Cunard Line, for their trip across the Atlantic to the United States, arriving in late January 1939. After Einstein's prompting, Boas went to work and helped Iltis connect with a temporary position teaching at the International School in Fredericksburg, Virginia, followed shortly thereafter with a permanent position teaching biology at Mary Washington College in Fredericksburg.


    More Information:

    Dr. Hugo Iltis (1882-1952) was a Czechoslovakian-born Jewish professor of botany, genetics, and biology, who had lived most of his life in Brünn. In 1921, he founded the Masaryk People's University in Brünn and remained as its director until he fled the country in 1938. He was a respected geneticist and had published an important biography on Gregor Mendel, Gregor Johann Mendel, Life, Work and Influence, in Germany in 1924 (it was published in English as Life of Mendel in 1932 by George Allen & Unwin LTD, London, and re-published by Hafner Publishing Company, New York in 1966).

     

    Dr. Iltis was also an outspoken opponent of the German Nazi Party and their use of science to bolster their eugenics. Throughout the 1930s he lectured against Nazi race theories, eventually publishing three books which denounced Nazi genetics. The most controversial of the three, The Myth of Blood and Race (1936), brought Iltis under the scrutiny of the Nazi Party. But the book also caught the attention of Albert Einstein. After reading it, Einstein developed a respect for Dr. Iltis' courage in writing such a controversial work in the face of the rising Nazi regime. In 1937, Einstein even sent a copy to the W. W. Norton publishing house in hopes that they would publish the work in English.

     

    Meanwhile, the situation in Czechoslovakia worsened. By September 1938, a Nazi invasion of the country loomed, endangering the life of Dr. Iltis. Believing that his non-Jewish wife and their two sons would be safer without him, he secretly checked-in at a Brünn hotel near his People's University on September 27, with plans to commit suicide. His wife, sensing trouble, notified the Brünn Police Department. After an heroic search, they found the professor and convinced him to abandon his suicidal plans.

     

    Earlier in April, Dr. Iltis had received a letter from Einstein advising him to emigrate to the U.S., establish connections, and then use those connections to bring his family. With that letter in hand, Dr. Iltis flew alone to England in December 1938, where he gave several lectures. One month later, after a harrowing train ride across Germany, his wife and two sons met him in Cherbourg, France, where they began their trip to America onboard the Cunard Ocean Liner Aquitania. From their safe vantage point in America, they watched as Hitler and the Nazis arrived in Prague on March 15, 1939, and announced by radio that they were in control of Czechoslovakia. That same day, the Gestapo fanned throughout the cities of Prague and Brünn with lists of people to round up. On their list was Hugo Iltis, who was safely far away.

     

    With the help of Albert Einstein, Dr. Iltis secured a temporary position at the International School in Fredericksburg, Virginia, and soon after attained a permanent faculty position at Mary Washington College in Virginia. His wife, Anni, helped him establish the Mendel Museum there. 

     

    We are honored with the privilege of offering the following letters on behalf of Dr. Hugh Iltis, the son of Dr. Hugo Iltis. A veteran of WWII, Hugh Iltis was one of the earliest soldiers to unearth the horrors committed by the Nazi regime.



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