On 3 October 1933, Professor Albert Einstein spoke to a packed audience at the Royal Albert Hall for the first and only time, speaking of his fear of the looming crisis in Europe, asking “How can we save mankind and it’s spiritual acquisitions of which we are the heirs and how can one save Europe from a new disaster?”
This speech was made almost six years before war in Europe began and it would be another ten years before the full horrors of the war would be fully understood in Britain, but to Albert Einstein and other Jews living in Germany, the crisis had already begun. By 1933, Jewish academics in Germany had begun to lose their jobs on racial or political grounds, violence against Jews was escalating at an alarming pace and their properties and possessions were being confiscated.
Einstein was able to leave Germany with the help of the Academic Assistance Council (AAC), an organisation established by William Beveridge, best known as the architect of the modern welfare state, who recognised a need to help academics escape persecution. He created the AAC in April 1933 and enlisted the support of scientists and Nobel Prize winners, Ernest Rutherford and A.V Hill as President and vice President of the Council. The group helped hundreds of academics to escape persecution and still continue that role today. They are now called the Council for Assisting Refugee Academics (CARA) and their focus has shifted from Europe to the Middle East, particularly Iraq and to troubled areas of Africa.
Albert Einstein, at this time was a campaigning pacifist and, like many ordinary people and politicians during this period, wanted to avoid war at any cost. He said: “Again the leading statesmen are burdened with tremendous responsibilities just as twenty years ago.” Einstein felt passionately about educating the people of Europe and spoke about the importance of education and enlightenment in changing people’s views and the collective will to avoid war.
Einstein at the Hall
In his speech at the Royal Albert Hall he declared:
‘If we want to resist the powers which threaten to supress intellectual and individual freedom we must keep clearly before us what is at stake, and what we owe to that freedom which our ancestors have won for us after hard struggles.’
‘Without such freedom there would have been no Shakespeare, no Goethe, no Newton, no Faraday, no Pasteur and no Lister. There would be no comfortable houses for the mass of people, no railway, no wireless, no protection against epidemics, no cheap books, no culture and no enjoyment of art at all. There would be no machines to relieve the people from the arduous labour needed for the production of the essential necessities of life. Most people would lead a dull life of slavery just as under the ancient despotisms of Asia. It is only men who are free, who create the inventions and intellectual works which to us moderns make life worth while.’
The Times reported that Einstein was wildly cheered on rising and during his speech, which was delivered in English. Other speakers at the meeting were physicist and Nobel Prize winner Lord Ernest Rutherford; leading anti-Nazi politician and Nobel Prize winner Sir Joseph Austen Chamberlain; preacher and suffragist Dr Maude Royden and leading economist and social reformer Sir William Beveridge.
Lord Rothermere’s Daily Mail newspaper urged its readers to stay away from the meeting as they regarded Albert Einstein as a communist threat to the country. At this time, Lord Rothermere was a supporter of both Adolf Hitler and the British Union of Fascists.
Four days later, Albert Einstein sailed to New York from Southampton to start a new job at Princeton University, originally planning to be away for only six months. He was never to return to Europe again.