Einstein’s Wife: Mileva Marić 1

The documentary “Einstein’s Wife” gives a thoroughly misleading account of the role of Mileva Marić in Einstein’s early scientific achievements.

By Allen Esterson

In 2003 the prestigious Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) in the United States broadcast the documentary “Einstein’s Wife”, with extensive website material to accompany the programme. The documentary purports to provide viewers with the facts about the supposed contributions that Einstein’s first wife Mileva Marić made to his work. Before I discuss the documentary itself, it is worth noting that the blurb on the DVD box indicates that reliable information is unlikely to be a feature of the programme:

Marić, a brilliant mathematician, collaborated with [Einstein] on three famous works: Brownian Motion, Special Relativity Theory and Photoelectric Effect, which won the Nobel Prize for physics in 1921.

The contention that Marić was a brilliant mathematician is erroneous. Although she consistently achieved high grades in mathematics at school, this is not the case for her diploma course at Zurich Polytechnic. On the contrary, in the final diploma exam in 1900 her grade in the maths component was less than half that of any of the other four candidates, and it was largely due to this poor result that she failed the exam.[1] And when she failed the exam the following year it was her grade in mathematics that again let her down. The assertion that Marić collaborated on Einstein’s celebrated papers of 1905 is equally unsubstantiated, resting as it does on erroneous claims which will be discussed below.

What follows below is an examination of various contentions made in the course of the documentary, which opens with a somewhat melodramatic re-enactment of the transfer of the Einstein Archive from Princeton Institute for Advanced Study to the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in 1982, as stipulated in Einstein’s will. A scene showing the Archive in Jerusalem is presented, accompanied by the commentary: “Buried deep within these vast archives was an unpublished manuscript. This led to the discovery of secret love letters, written by Einstein to a first wife who was also a physicist.”

This account of the discovery of the letters in question has been described by the historian who was instrumental in bringing their existence to light, Robert Schulmann, as “Totally and unequivocally false”.[2] (An account of the discovery of copies of the letters among documents in the possession of Einstein’s granddaughter, Evelyn, is given by Roger Highfield and Paul Carter.)[3]

The narrator asserts that when these letters were made public they “rocked the international scientific community”, a claim that owes more to sensationalist newspaper reports than to reality. In fact no reputable physicist with expertise in Einstein’s work and knowledge of the nature of the claims has given them credence. As Robert Schulmann and Gerald Holton write: “All serious Einstein scholarship, by Abraham Pais, John Stachel and others, has shown that the scientific collaboration between the couple was slight and one-sided.”[4] Detailed refutations of the claims have been published by Stachel.[5]

As we shall see, the errors in the documentary are legion, and no account of these errors and the numerous other misconceptions can fully convey the misleading effect of material presented in such a tendentious fashion. Even in minor items there are distortions that play their role in setting the framework for the viewpoint that the programme makers are intent on imposing on events. The misconceptions start early on when the writer Andrea Gabor says in relation to the course that Marić and Einstein embarked on at Zurich Polytechnic in 1896 that Marić “specialises in theoretical physics”, whereas she was actually studying for a diploma for teaching mathematics and physics in high school. Then, after reporting that Marić spent a semester at Heidelberg University at the beginning of her second year of study (1897-1898), the narrator states: “It is months before Mileva replies to Albert’s letters.” In fact there was only one letter from Einstein at that time. Again, Marić is presented as addressing Einstein as “Mein liebste Albert”, creating the impression of an intimacy between the couple considerably earlier than actually occurred. In fact the letter in question lacks any introduction, and nearly two years after this (late summer 1899) Marić was still addressing Einstein as “L[ieber] H[err] E[instein]”.[6] (It was only around this time that the couple first started using the German familiar form of address towards each other, “Du”, in place of the formal “Sie”.)[7]

As already noted, during the winter semester at the beginning of her second year of study Marić attended classes at Heidelberg University and one of her teachers was Philipp Lenard, who, we are told by the narrator, was “one of the great pioneers of quantum physics”. The science journalist Dennis Overbye then informs viewers that Lenard worked on the photoelectric effect, which he briefly describes. This is immediately followed by the narrator’s saying: “Mileva is enthralled and keeps Einstein abreast of this brave new world.” There follows a quotation from a letter Marić wrote to Einstein in this period.

The misconceptions here set the tone for the rest of the documentary. Lenard was not a pioneer in quantum physics; his reputation is based on his experimental work on cathode rays and the photoelectric effect. His experimental results on the photoelectric effect were not published until 1900 and 1902. He could not have been lecturing to a relatively elementary physics class on work he only accomplished a few years later, and both the implication that Marić was enthralled by such work, and the suggestion that she kept “Einstein abreast” of it, are grossly misleading. In any case, correspondence between them was extremely sparse at that time, and the letter from which a passage is then quoted (the same one cited above) contains nothing more than a rather naive account by Marić of a lecture on the kinetic theory of gases, unconnected to Lenard’s later experimental research on the photoelectric effect.[8] 

This is followed by the appearance of Evan Harris Walker taking the misleading contentions to a higher level: “When Albert and Mileva were publishing they took the data Professor Lenard had developed and developed a theory which forms part of the foundation of quantum mechanics. Very, very significant that she was the one with Lenard. It suggests that indeed she brought back much more than herself to Albert Einstein.” This is nonsense from beginning to end. As already noted, there is no evidence that the lectures of Lenard’s that she attended mentioned even his current experimental work on cathode rays (his papers on the photoelectric effect had not yet been published), and the suggestion that it was “very significant” in relation to Einstein’s future work that Marić had attended Lenard’s classes at that time is absurd. We know precisely when Einstein first had knowledge of Lenard’s initial experimental work on the photoelectric effect, as he wrote in a letter to Marić in May 1901 that he had just read “a wonderful paper by Lenard on the generation of cathode rays by ultraviolet light”.[9] Einstein’s revolutionary paper 1905 paper was on the later experimental results obtained by Lenard (1902), inexplicable in terms of classical physics. Nothing Marić might have told Einstein about Lenard’s lectures given in 1897 could have had any bearing whatsoever on this extraordinary achievement. And there is not the slightest evidence that Marić had any involvement in Einstein’s 1905 paper on the photoelectric effect.

The narrator tells viewers that “Albert and Mileva began cutting classes”, and that they are “keen aspirants to the more radical ideas” in physics. He continues: “They’re trying to solve the puzzles of the universe in mathematical form…”, and a little later: “Albert and Mileva’s habit of skipping classes to pursue their passion for the new world of physics sees them fail their final exams. But the board of examiners rounds Albert’s mark to a pass.”

It is certainly the case that Einstein was cutting classes to work on his own interests in physics (he even received an official reprimand for doing so),[10] but there not a shred of evidence that Marić did so. In fact earlier in the documentary John Stachel had stated that, while it was the case that Einstein had to make use of class notes for his exams provided by his friend and fellow student Marcel Grossman, his view of Marić was that she “was a much more orthodox student in that she did attend classes and, however successful or not, she took her coursework seriously, as she took everything seriously.” Nor is there a single document to show that Marić was pursuing any passion for the “new world of physics” on her own account, or was much more than a sympathetic reader (or listener) for Einstein as he reported his ideas on current developments in physics. The claims about their final marks need closer examination.

In the 1898 intermediate diploma examination Einstein came top of their group of six students.[11] Because of spending a semester at Heidelberg Marić delayed taking this exam until 1899, and her grade placed her fifth of the six in the group.[12] In the final diploma exam Einstein obtained an overall mark for four subjects and a dissertation of 4.91 (gradings from 1 to 6), i.e., with 1 the lowest grade, approximating to 78%. The relevant document by the Conference of Examiners shows that Einstein was granted a diploma in July 1900.[13] The erroneous statement in the documentary that Einstein failed appears to be based on the notion that the Polytechnic specified 5 as the pass grade, but there is no evidence in the Polytechnic archives that there was any such regulation.[14]

The Swiss linguist Senta Troemel-Ploetz appears next to provide her own commentary on Marić’s failing to obtain a diploma with an overall mark of 4.00: “…first of all you would get through today with 4.00, it would correspond to a C. So my explanation is that somebody said, well, Einstein already has his diploma and she doesn’t need one, one is enough in one family.”

Now of course the fact that in recent times 4.00 would be sufficient to pass an equivalent diploma exam in Switzerland does not mean that the same was true in 1900. As for Troemel-Ploetz’s far-fetched speculative “explanation” for Marić’s not being awarded a diploma, this presumes not only that the examiners were aware of the closeness of the relationship between Einstein and Marić, it imputes to them the gift of foresight since the pair did not marry until 2˝ years later! (It is very possible that Marić’s very low grade in the mathematics component (2.5 on a scale 1 to 6) suffices to explain why she was adjudged to have failed the exam.)

A little later the narrator states: “It is Mileva’s access and good standing with their professor [Weber] that keep their private research alive”. This can only be described as nonsense. Although Einstein needed to make use of the Polytechnic laboratory for work on his Ph.D. dissertation, the rest of his own research, in several fields, was almost entirely theoretical, and completely independent of the attitude of any of his professors. And the research was his alone; there is no evidence for any “private research”, unrelated to her studies, undertaken by Marić.

The next section of the documentary gives several quotations from Einstein’s letters that use “our” and “we” in relation to work he is investigating. This is taken as indicating that the research was a joint undertaking. However, several physicists who are specialists in the field of Einstein studies and who have examined this whole issue in the context of the full documentary evidence have rejected the claims made for Marić on the basis of Einstein’s inclusive language in some of his letters to her. Stachel has demonstrated in considerable detail that “the places in his letters to Marić where Einstein refers to ‘our work’ are quite general statements; when it comes to specific assertions about the work he invariably uses the first person singular (‘I’, ‘my’) in describing it.”[15] Marić’s only comments on her own work concern her studies at the Polytechnic, including her research project for her dissertation, and there is not a single document in which she writes about her own ideas on extra-curricular topics in physics. When she writes to her friend Helene Kaufler about Einstein’s published work she doesn’t in any way suggest that she contributed to it. For instance, in a letter dated 20 December 1900 she writes as follows about Einstein’s first published paper (on capillarity, published in 1901): “Albert wrote a paper in physics that will probably soon be published in the Annalen der Physik. You can imagine how proud I am of my darling.”[16] In similar vein, in relation to his first Ph.D. dissertation she writes: “Albert has written a magnificent study, which he has submitted as his dissertation…I have read this work with great joy and real admiration for my little darling, who has such a clever head.”[17] In neither case are these the words of someone who made substantive contributions to Einstein’s work.

When Einstein wrote in March 1901 “How happy and proud I will be when the two of us together will have brought our work on relative motion to a successful conclusion”, this is taken to indicate that Marić contributed to Einstein’s epoch-making paper on Special Relativity published in 1905. As Stachel notes, this sentence comes in a passage in which Einstein is seeking to reassure Marić about his feelings for her;[18] at other times there are no less than six letters in which he wrote about this very same subject and in these he refers exclusively to his ideas.[19] (For instance, later that same year, in December 1901, he wrote: “I’m busily working on an electrodynamics of moving bodies which promises to be quite a capital piece of work.” Stachel notes that there are over a dozen uses of first person singular pronouns by Einstein when discussing this subject, against the one use of “our” in the same context that is cited by proponents of the claims for Marić.)[20] In any case, the words in question were written was some four years before the 1905 paper was produced, and Einstein was still grappling with the concept of motion relative to the ether; the crucial breakthrough that eliminated the necessity for this concept did not occur until 1905, shortly before he wrote and submitted the 1905 paper to Annalen der Physik.[21] In short, substantive evidence that Marić contributed to the ideas presented in the 1905 Special Relativity paper is non-existent, and claims to this effect are without substance, as Stachel has demonstrated in considerable detail.[22] And when Marić wrote to Helene Kaufler in 1906 that “the papers [Albert] has written are already mounting quite high” there is not the least intimation that she might have had any role in them.[23]

For all the contentions to the contrary, there is not a single citable document written by Marić that contains any account of her ideas on the physics topics that constituted Einstein’s published papers in the early years of the twentieth century. In one letter dated November 1901, after mentioning having read two non-physics books sent to her by Einstein, she asks him: “Have you read the Planck [paper] yet?”[24] She adds, “It looks interesting” – and nothing else. It is inconceivable that had Einstein just referred to a paper by Planck he would not have discussed its contents and expressed his opinion about it, whereas Marić’s comment is so vague that it is not even evident that she had read it thoroughly. As Stachel observes, while Einstein’s letters “convey the distinctive impression of an original and imaginative mind at work,” Marić’s limited comments relating to physics “depict an eager, hardworking student, but without a spark of originality, or more precisely, of scientific originality…”[25] (It is worth noting that in the documentary the above question about Planck is interpolated in the middle of several quoted sentences from the following letter Marić wrote to Einstein,[26] and with the aid of tendentious omissions from that letter, a false impression of its significance is created.)

Aside from his published papers, Einstein’s Collected Papers contain an impressively large mass of letters to friends and to eminent physicists containing discussions of current physics ideas in the years from his student days to the time he and Marić separated.[27] There are no corresponding documents to indicate any remotely similar activity on Marić’s part. Later in the documentary Walker claims: “The facts are that there are about a dozen statements in Albert Einstein’s own hand stating that they were collaborating on ‘our theory’, ‘our work on the relative motion’. This is grossly misleading. Nowhere does Einstein state that they are “collaborating” on the work that led to his later published papers; this is an inference from his words, one which is incompatible with any documentary evidence, as Stachel and others have demonstrated.

The period immediately following their marriage in January 2003 is described as follows: “The Einstein’s settle into a comfortable routine, both working, Albert at the patent office and Mileva at home. They hold regular evening meetings with friends interested in science, calling themselves the Olympia Academy. It is part dinner society, part debating club. One of the members Maurice Solovine writes: ‘Mileva would sit in the corner during our meetings, listening attentively. She occasionally joined in. I found her reserved but intelligent and clearly more interested in physics than housework’.”

Leaving aside that the “Academy” started meeting in the early summer of 2002 before Marić came to Bern, the quotation is a gross misrepresentation of what Solovine actually wrote. After describing the intellectual and social activities of the Academy he wrote in relation to Einstein’s marriage to Marić (in early January 2003): “This event occasioned no change in our meetings. Mileva, intelligent and reserved, listened attentively but never intervened in our discussions.”[28] Martínez has pointed out that the words ascribed to Solovine in the documentary are actually the science journalist Dennis Overbye’s misleadingly embellished version of Solovine’s report, which does not say she “occasionally joined in”, nor contain the last part of the final sentence.[29] That those responsible for the commentary failed to check the easily-available original source for Solovine’s words is, unfortunately, entirely characteristic of the appalling level of scholarship of the documentary.

A little later the narrator notes that the couple’s first boy, Hans Albert, was born in May 1904 and states that “Mileva’s father visits them shortly after the birth and offers Einstein a handsome dowry”. However, we are told, Einstein refuses it in the following terms: “I didn’t marry her for money. I married her because I love her, because we are one. She is my guardian angel against the sins of life and especially so in the sciences.”

Now what is the evidence that Einstein made any such statement? The story comes from Marić’s biographer, Desanka Trbuhović-Gjurić, and apparently derives from an article published in a Belgrade publication in May 1929 by the journalist Miša Stretenović, who interviewed a friend of Marić’s, Milana Bota-Stefanović.[30] Trbuhović-Gjurić writes that Marić’s father, Miloš Marić, told his son and some friends that when he made his first visit to the couple in Switzerland he offered them some money, and that, as narrated by Stretenović, Einstein rejected it in the terms given in the documentary. So what we have is Trbuhović-Gjurić’s report of Stretenović’s report, which in turn is based on an statement supposedly made by Marić’s father to his son and some friends. (The story could not have been told to Stretenović by Marić’s father, as he died in 1922.) In other words, this is a fourth-hand report of something Einstein is said to have said at an event that we can’t be sure even happened!

It says much about the poor level of scholarship of the writers of the documentary that the words are put into Einstein’s mouth as if they are well-authenticated, without any indication of the indirectness (and unreliability) of the evidence that he actually said them. Such evidence comes at the very bottom of the 20 point scale of reliability suggested by Martínez: “Hearsay, late indirect accounts of what someone allegedly told someone else.”[31]

Incidentally, Dord Krstić has also cited the statement allegedly made to Marić’s father by Einstein. He writes that after the birth of Hans Albert in 1904, Miloš Marić traveled to Bern to present his son-in-law the dowry, but Einstein refused it. By Krstić’s account, Miloš supposedly wept when he told his family and friends of this gesture of Einstein’s and the words (as above) with which he had refused the offer. Krstić adds: “In a 1929 interview by Misha Sretenovic [sic], Mileva stated that Albert had called her his inspiration, his guardian angel…”[32] This reads as if Stretenović had interviewed Marić herself, but since Trbuhović-Gjurić says in her book only that the Belgrade journalist had interviewed Marić’s friend Milana this can safely be dismissed – as can the whole unlikely story.

The narrator continues: “…1905 proves to be an extraordinary year for the Einsteins. Five papers are submitted for publication….During the same period they also review scientific papers…”

Despite the inclusive wording here, there is not a scrap of evidence that Marić collaborated on the papers published in 1905, nor on the reviews Einstein published in this period. (It should be noted that the latter were not strictly reviews, more like short abstracts of articles in scholarly journals with occasional briefly expressed opinions on the contents.)[33]

In relation to the 1905 papers Marić is presented as saying: “This is a great achievement, a beautiful achievement.” This quotation seemingly derives from a report by Trbuhović-Gjurić of something Marić supposedly said to Einstein after she allegedly checked through his 1905 relativity paper.[34] Trbuhović-Gjurić is evidently recycling a report by Peter Michelmore (first published in 1962) in which he claims that Marić told Einstein “It’s a very beautiful piece of work”, though he gives no information about how he could have knowledge of something Marić said to Einstein in private.[35] (The section of Michelmore’s biography on the early period of Einstein’s career contains numerous assertions that are anecdotal, including other invented dialogue between Marić and Einstein, and some factual errors.)

The narrator states that “Einstein and Mileva continue to work on a particular problem”. This turns out to be in relation to the fifth of the Einstein’s 1905 papers, that in which the formula E=mc2 occurs. As with the other 1905 papers, there is not a jot of evidence that Marić collaborated on this paper. What we get in the documentary is Krstić telling viewers (in his uncolloquial English): “It is very possible that they debated about what is now known as a formula E=mc2, because soon after they returned [from visiting Marić’s parents], the article only on three pages well known was sent to Annalen der Physik.” This might be described as a good example of non-evidence!

The physicist Freeman Dyson observes: “The remarkable thing is that Einstein did three totally disconnected bits of work in 1905, the Brownian Motion paper, the photoelectric effect and the Special Relativity. All three marvelous and important pieces of work.” At this point Evan Harris Walker expresses his view that “There is the question of could he have done all of this work as well as holding his job all by himself with no additional help.”

This is a superficial view of the circumstances relating to Einstein’s creative burst in 1905. Firstly, Einstein had been working on theoretical ideas relating to the contents of these papers for several years. Then again, his work at the patent office was not particularly demanding of his time, and he would sometimes surreptitiously work on his physics researches in his office when occasion permitted. Furthermore, it is evident that Walker fails to appreciate what genius may accomplish in periods of intense dedication to the work in hand. Newton achieved a comparable burst of creativity in the years 1665-1666, during which he invented the infinitesimal calculus, and laid the foundations for his theories of light and color and of gravity and planetary motion. Composers such as Mozart and Schubert, of course, have comparable achievements. (Schubert worked as a schoolteacher in 1815, one of his most extraordinarily creative years.) Such creative bursts are beyond the ken of ordinary mortals, but that doesn’t mean that we have to seek explanation in the assistance of others.

At this point in the documentary the narrator states: “Further evidence of Mileva’s collaboration emerges from an unexpected source. Desanka Trbuhović, the first biographer to write about Mileva Marić, learns that Abraham Joffe, a renowned Russian scientist, cites both Albert’s and Mileva’s name on the original manuscripts submitted for publication in 1905.”

On the screen there appears a fragment of a page of a book in Cyrillic script showing the name Einstein-Marity. Krstić then describes how he and his mother went to Moscow in 1988 and found the reference in question. John Stachel is shown saying he doesn’t believe the Joffe story, and that “when we looked in the Joffe reference we never found it in the Russian original.” The fragment of the page from a book in Cyrillic script is again shown, and Krstić says: “It is exactly this place here, the signature, double signatures Einstein-Marity, then in brackets here – that was the family name of his first wife.”

This looks conclusive – in spite of Stachel’s denial, there is the name Einstein-Marity. But in fact this whole section is an exercise in disingenuous disinformation. No one denies that the name Einstein-Marity appears in something written by Joffe. The issue is, what exactly did he write? This claim has been fully investigated and comprehensively refuted by Alberto Martínez and, in painstaking detail, John Stachel.[36] The relevant passage by Joffe, part of an obituary for Einstein, is the following (literally translated by Martínez):

“In the year 1905, in Annals of Physics, there appeared three articles, thereupon beginning three most important, relevant directions in the physics of the 20th century. Those were: the theory of Brownian Motion, the photon theory of light and the theory of relativity. Their author – unknown until that time, a bureaucrat at the Patent Office in Bern, Einstein-Marity (Marity – the last name of his wife, which by Swiss custom is added to the last name of the husband).”[37]

It is evident that, contrary to the assertion made in the documentary, Joffe did not claim that he had seen the original manuscripts, nor that Marić was a co-author of the 1905 papers; on the contrary, he writes that the author was “a bureaucrat at the Patent Office in Bern”, in other words, Albert Einstein. Moreover, as Stachel reports, the fragment of a page pictured in the documentary is not by Joffe, but from a popular science book by the writer Daniil Semenovich Danin, who, presumably repeating Joffe’s report, writes that the three most famous 1905 papers were written by “a third class engineering expert in the Swiss Patent Office”, namely “Einstein-Marity (or Marić – which was his first wife’s family name).”

So this evidence purportedly showing that Marić collaborated with Einstein on the 1905 papers (indeed that she was co-author) is nothing of the kind, and its presentation as such in the documentary can only be described as grossly misleading. (In any case, is it conceivable that, had Joffe reported what is claimed, no one in the Soviet Union took any notice of what would have been a sensational revelation?)

Following Troemel-Ploetz’s stating that, as since January 1903 the couple “were together night and day”, and for much of the time before that, “it’s simply plausible that there would be a collaboration”, Krstić says that Hans Albert told him that “his mother and father used to sit at the same table” and that they “debated, calculated and read and write about science problems.” However, since Hans Albert was an infant during the relevant time (born 1904) he would hardly have been in a position to know – and the information can hardly be said to have come from a disinterested source. (It is Krstić who supplies the grossly misleading information about Joffe in the documentary.)

The narrator now asks: “But the question remains why was Mileva’s name removed when the papers were published?” This, of course, falsely presumes that her name was on the original manuscripts. Moreover, it is an outrageous slur on their scholarly integrity to suggest that the eminent editors of Annalen der Physik, including Max Planck, were complicit in the suppression of the name of a co-author of submitted manuscripts, a procedure which would also have necessitated changing relevant first person plural pronouns to first person singular. (It would not have set a precedent at that time for spouses to co-author a physics paper. Marie and Pierre Curie had co-authored papers, and had been jointly awarded a share in the Nobel Prize for physics in 1903.)

Marić’s voice is now heard saying that she is happy with Einstein’s deserved success, and adding: “I never miss the opportunity to listen to his lectures.” The narrator observes: “Indeed Mileva actually prepares some of Einstein’s lectures.” This is more than a little misleading. In the letter in question (to Helene Kaufler in January 1911) Marić writes that Einstein “works a lot and gives his [University] lectures, which are very well attended and liked, as well as many public lectures, which I never miss hearing.”[38] Evidently she is saying she attends Einstein’s public lectures, but there is no evidence she contributed in any way to these. What the narrator is alluding to is that there are some seven pages of notes in Marić’s handwriting at the beginning of Einstein’s second notebook for his lecture course on mechanics at the University of Zurich for the winter semester 1909-1910. (Stachel notes that these very closely correspond to the introductory sections of his first notebook.)[39] An examination of the pages in question reveals that they cover elementary introductory material in mechanics, a level of knowledge she would have acquired early in her Polytechnic diploma course.[40] These notebooks were prepared by Einstein when he was appointed to a professorship at Zurich University in May 1909, and involved a considerable amount of work for him, as Marić remarked to Kaufler in a letter dated 25 June of that year.[41] Evidently she gave him some assistance in their preparation. The implication in the documentary that Marić prepared lectures on advanced topics is grossly misleading.

The narrator notes the birth of their second son, Eduard, and the fact that Einstein’s devotion to physics has taken its toll on their family life. The writer Andrea Gabor then reports that “Albert is offered a job in Germany, in Berlin, and Mileva is opposed to his taking the job, and he takes it anyway.” What Gabor fails to mention is that what was offered to Einstein was no ordinary “job”, but that of Director of the Kaiser Wilhelm Institute of Physics, with minimal administrative or teaching duties, arguably the most prestigious post in physics at that time.

The remaining part of the documentary relates the tragic events in Marić’s later life, including the mental breakdown of her youngest son Eduard, and do not concern the issue of Marić’s alleged contributions to Einstein’s work. However, at the very end, for dramatic effect, Einstein’s voice is heard saying again that “Mileva is my guardian angel against the sins of life” – only this time he adds: “Without her I would never have started my work, and certainly not finished it.” Now earlier we were told that the occasion when Einstein made his little speech to Marić’s father was soon after the birth of Hans Albert in 1904. One thing we can be sure about is that it is inconceivable that Einstein would have said anything that suggested that he had finished his work at that time. It is suitable finale to the documentary that it should end by putting words into Einstein’s mouth that unambiguously demonstrate the inauthenticity of the scene at which he is supposed to have said them.


The question arises as to the source of many of the dubious claims concerning Marić’s supposed contributions to Einstein’s early work reported as fact in the documentary “Einstein’s Wife”. Some of them appear in an article written by Santa Troemel-Ploetz,[42] who appears in the documentary. Most of the relevant material in that article comprises of a credulous reproduction of hearsay reports and rumours from the friends and acquaintances of the Marić family, obtained more than half a century after the events they purport to elucidate, from the biography of Mileva Marić by Desanka Trbuhović-Gjurić.[43] The Einstein biographer Albrecht Fölsing has accurately described the book as a mixture of fictional invention and pseudo-documentation (“belletristischer Erfindung und Pseudodokumentation”).[44] Another source of the claims is Evan Harris Walker, who also appears in the documentary. The arguments he put forward in a letter to Physics Today[45] led the Einstein scholar John Stachel to write that if he had to judge Walker solely on the basis of that letter he would have to conclude that he is “a fantasist, who judges reality on the basis of his own desires”.[46] For more detailed critiques of the claims of the three individuals in question, see: http://www.esterson.org/milevamaric.htm


March 2006


Allen Esterson’s Home Page: http://www.esterson.org/




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[1] The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 1, eds. J. Stachel et al, Princeton University Press, 1987, p. 247.

[2] Personal communication.

[3] Highfield, R. and Carter, P. (1993). The Private Lives of Albert Einstein. London: Faber and Faber, pp. 279-281.

[4] Letter in New York Times Book Review, 8 October 1995.

[5] Stachel, J. (2002). Einstein from ‘B’ to ‘Z’. Boston: Birkhäuser, pp. 26-38; 39-55; Stachel, J (ed.) (2005). Einstein’s Miraculous Year: Five Papers That Changed the Face of Physics. Princeton University Press, pp. liv-lxxii. See also: Stachel, J. (1996). “Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić: A Collaboration That Failed to Develop.” In H. M. Pycior, N. G. Slack, and P. G. Abir-Am (eds.), Creative Couples in the Sciences, Rutgers University Press, pp. 207-219, 330-335.

[6] Collected Papers, Vol. 1 (eds. Stachel et al, 1987), pp. 58, 228.

[7] Renn, J. and Schulmann, R. (1992). Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić: The Love Letters. Trans. S. Smith. Princeton University Press, p. xxxi.

[8] Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 3-4.

[9] Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 54.

[10] Fölsing, A. (1997). Albert Einstein. Trans. E. Osers. New York: Penguin Books, p. 57.

[11] Collected Papers, Vol. 1 (Stachel et al, 1987), p. 214.

[12] Highfield & Carter (1993), p. 50.

[13] Collected Papers, Vol. 1 (Stachel et al, 1987), p. 247.

[14] Stachel, J. (2002), p. 32.

[15] Stachel, J (ed.) (2005), p. ll. See Stachel (2002), pp. 27-28, 33-36.

[16] Popović, M. (2003). In Albert’s Shadow The Life and Letters of Mileva Marić, Einstein’s First Wife. Johns Hopkins University Press, p. 70.

[17] Popović (2003), pp. 79-80.

[18] Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 39.

[19] Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 10, 14, 15, 69, 71, 72.

[20] Stachel (2002), p. 36.

[21] Fölsing (1997), pp. 175-177.

[22] Stachel (2002), pp. 33-36.

[23] Popović (2003), p. 88.

[24] Renn & Schulmann (1992), p. 62.

[25] Stachel (2002), p. 44.

[26] Renn & Schulmann (1992), pp. 63-64.

[27] Among the eminent physicists of his day with whom he corresponded on his ideas in the period from 1905 to 1908 were Lenard, Laue, Röntgen, Stark, Planck, Wien, Lorentz, and Sommerfeld.

[28] Solovine, M. and Einstein, A. (1987). Albert Einstein: Letters to Solovine. New York: Philosophical Library, p. 13.

[29] Martínez, A. A. (2005).  Handling Evidence in History: The Case of Einstein's Wife

School Science Review, March 2005, 86 (316), pp. 50-51;  Overbye, D. (2000). Einstein in Love: A Scientific Romance. New York: Penguin Books, p. 110.

[30] Trbuhović-Gjurić, D. (1983). Im Schatten Albert Einsteins: Das tragische Leben der Mileva Einstein-Marić. Bern: Paul Haupt, p. 76; French edition: Trbuhović-Gjurić, D. (1991), Mileva Einstein: Une Vie (trans. from the German by N. Casanova). Paris: Antoinette Fouque, p. 107. (The German language edition is an edited version of the book by Trbuhović-Gjurić originally published in Serbo-Croat in Yugoslavia in 1969.)

[31] Martínez (2005), p. 54.

[32] Krstić, D. (1991). Appendix, p. 92. In Elizabeth R. Einstein, Hans Albert Einstein: Reminiscences of His Life and Our Life Together, University o f Iowa, 1991.

[33] See Collected Papers, Vol. 2 (trans. A. Beck and consultant P. Havas, 1989).

[34] Trbuhović-Gjurić (1983), p. 72; Trbuhović-Gjurić (1991), p. 103.

[35] Michelmore, P. (1963). Einstein: Profile of the Man, p. 42.

[36] Martínez (2004); Martínez (2005), pp. 51-52; Stachel (2005), pp. liv-lxiii. 

[37] Martínez (2005), pp. 51-52; another translation is given in Stachel (2005), p. lvi.

[38] Popović (2003), p. 105.

[39] Stachel (2002), p. 47; Collected Papers, Vol.  3 (eds. Klein et al, 1993), p. 125.

[40] The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein, Vol. 3 (English Translation). A. Beck (translator) and D. Howard (Consultant), Princeton University Press, 1987, pp. 1-6.

[41] Popović (2003), p. 97.

[42] Troemel-Ploetz, S. (1990). “Mileva Einstein-Marić: The Woman Who Did Einstein’s Mathematics.” Women’s Studies International Forum, Vol. 13, No. 5.

[43] Trbuhović-Gjurić, D. (1983), p. 26; Trbuhović-Gjurić, D. (1991), p. 31.

[44] Fölsing, A. (1990). “Keine ‘Mutter der Relativitätstheorie’,” Die Zeit, Nr. 47, 16 November 1990.

[45] Walker, E. H. Letter in Physics Today, February 1989, pp. 9-11.

[46] Stachel (2002), p. 26.