Lewis Lapham: 1939 Princeton Poll Ranked Hitler Over Einstein
As Hitler rose to power, he proclaimed himself the genius Germany needed. He was the man to lead the Aryan race — “from whose shining brow the divine spark of genius has at all times flashed forth” — to its rightful place in the world.
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One of the great visionaries, Einstein overturned the rules of Newtonian physics, receiving the 1921 Nobel Prize. He was a professor in Berlin when Hitler ascended in 1933.
Calling Einstein a “Jewish criminal,” the Nazis confiscated his property, burned his books and made him an assassination target. Hitler claimed that Jewish scientists had stolen everything from the Germans: “We do not need them.”
That same year, Einstein joined Princeton’s newly-founded Institute of Advanced Study.
In 1939, Princeton University asked its incoming students to list the world’s greatest living people. Einstein came in second.
Hitler came in first.