Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Albert Einstein: The Refugee and Immigrant

Blogger: Amber Schamel
Blogger: Amber Schamel


 Most of us know a brief history of Albert Einstein. He was one of the greatest minds in history and bettered our world with his vast knowledge and progressive theories. He won awards and honorary degrees from universities throughout Europe and the United States. However, even a man of such standing was familiar with racism and immigration challenges. I thought it would be timely to take this perspective on Einstein's biography.

Albert Einstein 1921
Public Domain

Albert Einstein was born to middle-class Jewish parents in Ulm, Germany on March 14th, 1879. School in Germany was difficult for him, so he left to study in Switzerland in 1894. At the age of 16, he renounced his German citizenship in order to become a citizen of Switzerland. However, after graduating, he was unable to procure a teaching position in Switzerland, so he returned to his birth country in 1914 and became a professor at the University of Berlin. Two years later, he won the Nobel Prize in physics, which brought him fame and opportunities to lecture throughout the world. This increase in fame, however, was also a curse. It made him and his family the focus of many anti-Semitic attacks at a time when such sentiments were becoming militant in Germany. 

Only twelve years later, Adolf Hitler rose to power in Germany, and conditions worsened quickly. Professor and Mrs. Einstein began to seek a visa to come to the United States of America. 

You would think that any country would be glad to have a citizen as intelligent and renowned as Professor Einstein, however, there were many Americans that opposed his immigration to the United States because of his "radical" views.

In a December 1932 article, the headline of the Guardian newspaper touted, "US visa officials ignore protests about scientist's leftwing beliefs". The article specifically mentions the American Women's Patriotic Association as one of those trying to interfere and block his immigration, and even his landing here in the United States.

Einstein with his second wife, Elsa

In 1933, the Professor had been on tour in the States, and while he was gone, his cottage was raided by Nazi police because he had spoken against the horrible treatment of the Jews in Germany. He and his wife decided it was not safe for them to return to Germany, so for the second time, Albert Einstein renounced his German citizenship. He petitioned via the EB-1 visa, which allows immigrants of exceptional intellect and abilities to come to the U.S and work in their specialized field. This visa has come to be known as the "Einstein visa" because of his case.

In 1939, Einstein co-wrote a letter to then-president Franklin Roosevelt detailing what capabilities and advantages might be possible with atomic and hydrogen bombs, encouraging the President to start a program for the development and research of such weapons. I must note that this action goes contrary to Professor Einstein's anti-war sentiments, and must have been a difficult thing for him to do. Without Einstein's influence, the Manhattan Project may never have come to be, and it was this program that worked to develop the weapons that ultimately won WWII for the United States and her allies. 

Political Cartoon depicting Einstein shedding
his pacifist wings in his letter to FDR.
Public Domain


When the news of the atomic bombing of Hiroshima reached Einstein, he quickly forged an international effort to help regulate and control weapons of mass destruction. At the same time, he also joined the NAACP, a civil rights organization advocating for people of color. These two causes Einstein felt very strongly about and would continue to support for the rest of his days. I imagine the civil rights movement hit close to home for him because he was familiar with racism and its affects as a Jew born in Germany.

Einstein passed his citizenship test in 1940. That year, at the World's Fair, Einstein gave a speech on immigration to America and its benefits. In that speech he emphasized that "Unemployment is not decreased by restricting immigration. For unemployment depends on faulty distribution of work among those capable of work. Immigration increases consumption as much as it does demand on labor. Immigration strengthens not only the internal economy of a sparsely populated country, but also its defensive power." 

In Einstein's case, this was certainly true. For without Einstein, we can only imagine the destruction and havoc that Germany's nuclear program could have accomplished. Not to mention the great leaps of science that were brought about by his spectacular intellect.I shudder to think of the change of course history may have suffered if certain groups had been successful in blocking his immigration attempts. What if they had prevented his landing, and he would have been taken into custody by the Nazis in 1933?

As the wife of an immigrant, Einstein's history strikes a nerve for me. My husband also faced obstacles in his journey, and we had family members who tried to block his immigration efforts and find grounds to have him deported, simply because they opposed our relationship. Thankfully, they were not successful either, but I believe that the history of immigrants that made this nation what it is should be more prominent in our society today so that we don't miss out on wonderful minds and hearts, such as Albert Einstein and my husband. 



Two-time winner of the Christian Indie Award for historical fiction, Amber Schamel writes riveting stories that bring HIStory to life. She has a passion for travel, history, books and her Savior. This combination results in what her readers call "historical fiction at its finest".

She lives in Colorado Springs near her favorite mountain, in a small “castle” with her prince charming. Between enjoying life as a new mom, and spinning stories out of soap bubbles, Amber loves to connect with readers and hang out on Goodreads with other bookish peoples.

Amber is a proud member of the American Christian Fiction Writers Association. Visit her online at and download a FREE story by subscribing to her Newsletter!


  1. Thank you for your thought-provoking post. I find it so interesting that Einstein set aside his personal beliefs to work on the atomic weapons. There's always a lesson in the history!

    1. Thanks for stopping by today, Connie! Glad you enjoyed the post.