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View from near Hebrew university of Mount Scopus. Einstein left all of his estate and intellectual legacy to the Hebrew University.


by Rafael Medoff, posted June 19, 2017

(Dr. Rafael Medoff is founding director of The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies, and author or editor of 16 books about the Holocaust and Jewish history.)
Albert Einstein was one of the greatest scientists of all time. His contributions to physics revolutionized our understanding of the universe. The current television series based on his life is appropriately titled “Genius.” But did he also help facilitate a mass rescue of Jews from Germany?
That was the surprising—and profoundly misleading—claim made in last week’s episode of the first season of the Ron Howard-produced series, which is being shown on the National Geographic channel. 
Last week’s episode (#8) depicted how in late 1932, as the Nazis were rising to power in Germany, Einstein applied for a visa to the United States. American consul Raymond Geist, in Berlin, was shown asking Einstein to sign an affidavit that he was not a member of the Communist Party. In the final scene of the episode, Einstein told Geist he would sign, then added: “But promise me [that] Elsa and I will not be the only Jews you help find their way to America’s shores.”
Then the following statement appeared on the screen, before the credits began to roll: “From 1933 to 1939, United States Consul General Raymond Geist helped issue life saving visas for more than 50,000 German Jews.”
Thus viewers were left with the impression that Geist was responsible for rescuing tens of thousands of Jews from the Nazis, perhaps because his conscience was prodded by Einstein’s remark.
It’s not clear where the writers of “Genius” came up with that information, since television shows don’t have footnotes. Certainly nothing resembling the Geist-as-rescuer claim appears in the book on which the series is based, “Einstein: His Life and Universe,” by Walter Isaacson. Nor can it be found in Fred Jerome’s The Einstein File: J. Edgar Hoover’s War Against the World’s Most Famous Scientist, upon which Isaacson’s version of the incident is partly based. (In fact, Jerome contends that Einstein never signed the affidavit at all.)
But whatever the source for the “Genius” team’s claim about Geist, it’s misleading in the extreme.
A total of 77,751 German nationals—approximately 70,000 of whom were Jews—immigrated to the United States during the years 1933-1939. But more than twice that number—184,525, to be exact—could have been admitted, according to the U.S. immigration quota for Germans that was in force at the time. In other words, the German quota for that period was only 42% filled. As for the other 58% who were turned away—well, tough luck.
Of the twelve years Franklin D. Roosevelt was president, the German quota was filled in just one (1939). In most of those years, it was less than 25% filled. The policy of the Roosevelt administration —implemented by Raymond Geist and his fellow-consular officials in Germany— was to suppress Jewish refugee immigration far below the legal limits. They did it by piling on extra requirements to qualify for visas, and looking for every conceivable way to reject applicants.
Some refugees were turned away because they had only a ketubah (the traditional Jewish marriage certificate), rather than a civil marriage certificate, and U.S. consuls refused to recognize it as valid (thus rendering the couple’s children “illegitimate”).
Many German Jewish students who were admitted to American colleges were denied visas because the consuls claimed it might not be safe enough for them to return to Germany later. Talk about a Catch-22; they needed to leave Germany because it was not safe, but they could not go to America because it would be unsafe for them to go back to Germany.
The American consul-general in Berlin even told his colleagues that German Jews' hostility to the German government was only temporary, and therefore t
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