Wednesday, March 12, 2014

April 24, 1939: The Einstein Letter

Original Letter of Recommendation from Professor Albert Einstein


To Whom It May Concern:

I have the pleasant duty to recommend Mr. Thomas Doeppner most sincerely for the support of his efforts to complete his education in America. I do not know him personally , but have been reliably informed about the young man's family, and about his human and professional qualities. The father emigrated shortly after the Nazi takeover in Germany, and is currently working as press representative in Holland. The young Doeppner is of excellent character, and has already started his studies in electrical engineering with good results. There is no question that he will develop into a successful
man who will have deserved any assistance in his education that may be extended to him. I would be very pleased if this were made possible.

Princeton, N.J., April 24, 1939                    Professor Albert Einstein

Letter from Helen Dukas with Albert Einstein embossed stamp


(embossed stamp)
A. Einstein
112 Mercer Street
New Jersey USA

April 24, 1939

Miss Charlotte S. Salmon
Refugee Section of the
American Friends Service Committee
20 S. 12 Str.
Philadelphia, Pa.

Dear Miss Salmon:
    enclosed I am sending you an endorsing letter by Professor Einstein for young Thomas Doeppner. I do hope that you will be able to secure a scholarship for him. In view of the fact that his father is legally admitted to Holland and has a fairly good position there as a newspaper-man it should be easier for the young man to get the student visa.
     Sincerely yours,
        Helen Dukas
         secretary to Prof. Einstein

I hope, it makes not much difference that the Prof. Einstein's letter is in German. My English is not good anough for an adequate translation. But, please, let me know if you think the letter should better be in English.
 Albert Einstein looking sassy in sandals, 1939Albert Einstein pictured around 1939

Here it is! Einstein’s letter of recommendation! Forgive my geekiness- but I am excited about it. Opa writes about this letter of recommendation in his memoir, “From Nazi Germany to a Career in Freedom”:

Professor Einstein wrote me a letter, addressed “To Whom it May Concern,” stating that while he did not know me personally, he had been reliably informed of my scholastic abilities, and would appreciate any help to get me a scholarship. (I still have that letter.) Primarily thanks to that letter, I finally received a scholarship...that eventually gave me my start on a new life.

So, through one letter, one signature, Opa’s shot at freedom expands. If you think about it, it probably took Einstein a grand total of 30 seconds to process this letter, start to finish. One simple pen stroke has the power to alter the course of a human life. In Opa’s memory, this was a turning point for his college search.

It is amazing to me the steady stream of people in my Opa’s life who provided a helping hand when he needed it. Helen Dukas went out of her way to help Opa by responding to his family’s request for help, following through with the American Friends Service Committee, and lastly, probably drafting the letter herself and putting it in front of Albert Einstein to sign- and sending it on its way in the mail. 

It is just icing on the cake that Albert Einstein among those who did something to help Opa. I did a little research, and Einstein was known to help the German-Jewish refugees, specifically any who showed promise as scholars. I found an article online that referenced a collection of letters:  
The letters in the Bergreen Collection illustrate Einstein’s deep and abiding commitment to securing the safe removal of Jewish scholars from Germany as well as their placement at institutions abroad.
 (found this article here: In this article, it makes the point that Einstein didn’t always know for sure that the person he wrote the recommendation for was qualified. Some people might be annoyed by that, I find it kind of endearing. He really was an absent-minded professor. So, Einstein recommended Opa. And we (my family) still have the letter to show for it. Thanks, Professor Einstein. And thank you Helen for seeing it through.

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