NEW YORK – A letter Albert Einstein wrote in October 1938, in which he criticizes European leaders for allowing Adolf Hitler to annex Czechoslovakia’s Sudetenland border region, effectively crippling the country’s defenses, sold for $31,250 at a California auction on Friday.
The letter, handwritten in German and postmarked from Princeton University, is addressed to Einstein’s friend Michele Besso, a Jewish Swiss Italian engineer and the only person to be credited in Einstein’s original paper on Special Relativity.
In the letter, Einstein criticizes the Munich Agreement, signed 10 days earlier by Germany, France, the United Kingdom and Italy. The settlement, which aimed to appease Germany, permitted the Nazis’ annexation of Sudetenland. In March 1939, Germany invaded the remainder of Czechoslovakia.
“You have confidence in the British and even [British prime minister Neville] Chamberlain? O sancta simpl...! [‘Oh holy innocence’, i.e., naiveté in Latin],” Einstein wrote. “Hoping that Hitler might let off steam by attacking Russia, he sacrifices Eastern Europe. But we will come to see once more that shrewdness does not win in the long term.”
Einstein accurately predicted that the agreement would embolden Hitler and do further damage to Europe. “In France, [Chamberlain] pushed the Left into a corner and, in France as well, helped give power to those people whose motto is, ‘Better Hitler than the Reds,’” Einstein continued. “Now he saved Hitler in the nick of time by crowning himself with the wreath of love of peace and inducing France to betray the Czechs.”
“I do not have any hope left for the future of Europe,” he wrote.
Einstein had worked with Besso to save European Jews by issuing affidavits of support of their US visa applications. In the letter auctioned, Einstein mentioned that he wasn’t able to distribute any more affidavits because it would endanger those whose applications were pending.