By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News
Enid Bronstein was ready to part with an original typed letter from Albert Einstein to her father, a letter she had kept for 50 years in a safe deposit box.
The German-born physicist wrote her father David H. Finck, a finance executive in New York, on June 10, 1939, commending him on sponsoring many members of the Jewish community so they could flee Nazi Germany for the U.S.
Bronstein, an 80-year-old Chicagoan, recently donated the rare letter to the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C. The donation will be used by scholars, historians and for educational purposes, said Curator Suzy Snyder.
Bronstein kept the letter so long “so I could share it with my children and grandchildren when they were old enough to understand what my father did all those years ago. I wanted to make sure that my children heard from me how important it is to stand up for what is right even if it is hard or not successful. It may not have been a popular decision because the U.S. at that time favored isolationism and was not prepared for another war.”
She decided to donate the letter because “I wanted to preserve it as a historical artifact. It was a fact that American Jews knew what was going on in Germany even before the war. Anyone who denies the Holocaust would have a hard time explaining why Albert Einstein would write to my father about his efforts to save the Jews from their ‘calamitous peril.’”
Einstein’s writes in his letter to Finck: “It must be a source of deep gratification to you to be making so important a contribution toward rescuing our persecuted fellow Jews from calamitous peril and leading them toward a better future.”
“From these letters, it’s clear that Einstein obviously had a hand in trying to deal with the refugee crises itself,” Snyder said.
A thank-you letter like it fetched over $10,000 at auction, Snyder said. The Finck letter is one of three such letters known to be written by Einstein, himself a Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany.
“Enid didn’t want to sell it,” Snyder said. “It was clear that the family thought it important to donate.”
Bronstein contacted the curatorial department of the museum. Snyder agreed to meet her in Highland Park where Bronstein handed over the letter. “It was really touching to me,” Snyder said. “There was a piece of Enid’s father’s history that she was ready to part with and it’s also a great illustration of what Einstein was like as a person.”
Einstein, a theoretical physicist and Nobel Laureate, was also a refugee and humanitarian having inspired the founding of the organization that became the International Rescue Committee. At the time he wrote the letter, he had been living in Princeton, N.J. and was serving as a professor of theoretical physics at a university institute.
Bronstein’s father, Finck, raised money and donated personal funds to pay for sponsorship expenses including visas, Bronstein said. He was originally involved because he was trying to save his aunt and her family. They had returned to Germany during the Depression because there was no work in Boston where they were living. They then tried to return to the U.S. when the Nazis came to power. Finck was unable to rescue them and they died in the Holocaust.
Finck, who died in 1966, was able to sponsor other refugees who made it to the U.S. and then faced resettlement expenses such as food and housing.
“My father had a very positive influence on others through his personality and convictions. He inspired others to help as well. I would like him to be remembered for doing the right thing and using his connections and leadership skills to speak up on behalf of the Jews of Europe.”
Snyder told WGN TV that as more survivors pass on, the race is on to gather as much as possible and collect first person accounts. The letter is significant because it shows Einstein acknowledging the work done by the Jewish community.
“The letter,” Bronstein said, “has a powerful message that is relevant in today’s fractured society. It is very important to stand up for what is right – even if it isn’t popular.”