After watching the movie Besa, The Promise, my curiosity drove me to watch another film about the rescue of the Jews by Albanians before and during WW2. The film Rescue in Albania, may be watched at your leisure on the Internet (https://youtu.be/eZ8szhccfZM). During the first 12 minutes of this film, it is stated that the physicist Dr Albert Einstein was both issued with an Albanian visa or passport and also spent several days in Albania on his way to the USA in 1935. This aroused my curiosity.
There are numerous references to Einstein’s alleged stay in Albania on the Internet. However, if this happened it is not mentioned in any of at least three well-regarded biographies of this man[i]. It is unlikely that he even needed an Albanian passport as he was a Swiss Citizen, holding a Swiss passport. It appears that he travelled on a German passport. Barbara Wolff of The Albert Einstein Archives at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem wrote in 2014: “Dear Albanians, I do not doubt that your country protected and saved a considerable number of Jews during the Nazi years. However, Albert Einstein was not among these people. Thanks to original documents in our archives we can easily refute Basho’s stories and prove that Einstein was neither in Vienna nor in Albania in April of 1931, that his German passport was not taken away from him but he travelled on this German passport to the US in 1931 and did neither need nor use an Albanian passport before or after 1931. He immigrated to the US in October 1933 and left only once, to travel to Bermuda, in May 1935, but never returned to Europe.- Regards from Jerusalem, Barbara Wolff.” [ii] This was in response to an article that claimed that Einstein was made a citizen of Pogradec in 1931( see: http://gazetadielli.com/albert-einstein-in-albania-and-the-albanian-passport/)
I searched the Einstein Archives Online[iii] for both ‘Albania’ and ‘Albanian’, and only found two references, both to letters dated April 1931. One of them was written by Pandeli Endjeli, who was Prime Minister of Albania at the time. It was addressed to an “Albanian Consulate” and its subject matter was “Professeur Einstein et Menichelis au nom”. It was written in French and sent from Tirana, and makes mention of both Menichelis and Einstein. The other letter was written in German by “The Swedish Consul” and its subject matter was “In Abwesenheit meines Freundes, des Herrn Martin Lentschner, Konsul von Albanien” [i.e. ‘In the absence of my friend Mr. Martin Lentschner, Consul of Albania’]. Its recipient was Albert Einstein. It was sent from Leipzig. There is a reference to Martin Lentschner that I found which was in Das jüdische Schulwerk in Leipzig 1912-1933, by Barbara Kowalzik, where a Martin Lentschner was referred to as a ‘merchant’. In Handbuch für das Deutsche Reich Bearbeitet im Reichsamte des Innern, published in 1924 Martin Lentschner is listed as being the Albanian Consul in Leipzig. In the Balkan-Archiv, Volumes 5-7, published in 1981, we read: “Noch weniger ist über das Albanischer Institut, das im Jahre 1925 gegründet wurde. Die Finanzierung wurde durch das albanischer Konsul in Leipzig, Martin Lentschner, sichergestellt.” [i.e: ‘Even less is known about the Albanian Institute, which was founded in 1925. The financing was assured by the Albanian Consul in Leipzig, Martin Lentschner.’]. This institute was in fact founded by Gustav Weigand (1860-1930), who also founded Rumanian and Bulgarian Institutes in Leipzig[iv]. Robert Elsie writes of Weigand: “Although Weigand specialized in Romanian, Bulgarian, and, in particular, the Aromanian dialects of the Balkan peninsula, he also made a notable contribution to research on the Albanian language. In this field he is remembered for Albanesische Grammatik im südgegischen Dialekt: Durazzo, Elbassan, Tirana … and many articles on Albanian dialects and the origins of the Albanian people.”[v]
Unfortunately, I have not been able to see the contents of the two letters described above. The letters were written in 1931, a time during which Einstein was shuttling back and forth between Europe and the USA, and before Hitler became the Chancellor of Germany. Einstein finally left Germany in 1933.
One of the items that I found whilst investigating Einstein’s visit to Albania throws some doubt on it. On the 21st of May 2013, Ms. Edith Harxhi, Deputy Foreign Minister of the Republic of Albania, is reported[vi] to have said:“There are many newspapers that have published articles about a possibility that Albert Einstein was provided with an Albanian Passport when he left Europe for the United States. It was said that he went to Albania, got the passport and the US Visa and after 3 days he travelled to the United States. There are many Albanians who have given testimony about this fact. However, no records were found about this interesting fact. It might’ve been concealed for security reasons of that time.”
I will leave you with this, and let you decide for yourself whether Einstein ever set foot in Albania or possessed an Albanian passport. I am rather sceptical, but IF ANYONE CAN PROVIDE ME with good evidence that Dr Albert Einstein did actually visit Albania, I am willing to change my mind!
[i] The 3 are by Banesh Hoffman, Alberto Pais, and Walter Isaacson.
[ii] http://gazetadielli.com/albert-einstein-in-albania-and-the-albanian-passport/ , accessed 24th May 2015
[v] See Elsie’s Historical Dictionary of Albania, 2nd. Edition.