Review: Einstein on the Run

This book tells the story of how the great Albert Einstein was rescued from the clutches of the Nazis by an Englishman


Einstein on the Run by Andrew Robinson (Yale University Press, £16.99)

It is fitting that, as a lifelong Anglophile, the great Albert Einstein should have been rescued from the clutches of the Nazis by an Englishman. And the story is all the better for the fact that his rescuer was a slightly oddball member of the breed, the now-forgotten Tory MP and naval officer Commander Oliver Stillingfleet Locker-Lampson.

Einstein on the Run recounts the brief episode in the autumn of 1933 when, in danger of assassination by Nazi hitmen, and with a bounty on his head, Einstein fled his temporary refuge in Belgium to take up the offer of Locker-Lampson’s safe haven in East Anglia.

The MP had earlier been an admirer of Hitler, whom he had regarded as a necessary bulwark against the Soviet Union and Communism. But mounting persecution of Germany’s Jews in the early 1930s had turned him against the Nazis. Locker-Lampson was no antisemite and he idolised Einstein, whose situation after Hitler’s ascent to power in 1933 became desperate.

He had a summer home in Cromer, on the Norfolk coast, and also rented a compound of three small wooden holiday huts on a nearby heath. On September 9, Einstein hurriedly packed his bags, caught a boat to England and was spirited away to this rural retreat by his enthusiastic host.

The whole affair was marvellously farcical. His hideaway was meant to be secret but Locker-Lampson enjoyed the limelight, so the press was welcomed and soon stories were appearing nationwide about how Einstein was holed up in a hut “near Cromer”, calmly working on his scientific problems and smoking his pipe, while being guarded by Commander Locker-Lampson and some gamekeepers, all armed with shotguns. The papers even carried photos of them.

As Andrew Robinson points out, “any Nazi agent worth his salt could have worked out where Einstein was hidden”.

The sculptor Jacob Epstein turned up at the little hut to model a bust of the great man but, at the first sitting, “the professor was so surrounded with tobacco smoke that I saw nothing”.

As for the locals, they had no idea who the world-famous scientist was. But when they heard that he was “an ol’ Jarman”, several of them — Great War veterans who had suffered at the hands of the “Bosch” — were tempted to claim the reward on his head.

Towards the end of this strange sojourn, Einstein’s feelings towards Locker-Lampson began to sour. For one thing, his host had a habit of opening his letters, including those from his wife Elsa — a tad too controlling for the genius who relished his freedom.

In early October, Einstein sailed to America, and a position at the new Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. He never again set foot in Europe. But I bet he never forgot Norfolk.

Monica Porter is a writer and freelance journalist

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