In May 2021, a years-old post about letters purportedly sent by theoretical physicist Albert Einstein to his daughter Lieserl circulated — likely revived by the “On This Day” or “Memories” function on Facebook.
The popular post read:
In the late 1980s, Lieserl, the daughter of the famous genius, donated 1,400 letters, written by Einstein, to the Hebrew University, with orders not to publish their contents until two decades after his death. This is one of them, for Lieserl Einstein.
… When I proposed the theory of relativity, very few understood me, and what I will reveal now to transmit to mankind will also collide with the misunderstanding and prejudice in the world. I ask you to guard the letters as long as necessary, years, decades, until society is advanced enough to accept what I will explain below.
There is an extremely powerful force that, so far, science has not found a formal explanation to. It is a force that includes and governs all others, and is even behind any phenomenon operating in the universe and has not yet been identified by us.
This universal force is LOVE.
When scientists looked for a unified theory of the universe they forgot the most powerful unseen force.
Love is Light, that enlightens those who give and receive it.
Love is gravity, because it makes some people feel attracted to others.
Love is power, because it multiplies the best we have, and allows humanity not to be extinguished in their blind selfishness. Love unfolds and reveals.
For love we live and die.
Love is God and God is Love.
This force explains everything and gives meaning to life. This is the variable that we have ignored for too long, maybe because we are afraid of love because it is the only energy in the universe that man has not learned to drive at will.
To give visibility to love, I made a simple substitution in my most famous equation.
If instead of E = mc2, we accept that the energy to heal the world can be obtained through love multiplied by the speed of light squared, we arrive at the conclusion that love is the most powerful force there is, because it has no limits.
After the failure of humanity in the use and control of the other forces of the universe that have turned against us, it is urgent that we nourish ourselves with another kind of energy…
If we want our species to survive, if we are to find meaning in life, if we want to save the world and every sentient being that inhabits it, love is the one and only answer.
Perhaps we are not yet ready to make a bomb of love, a device powerful enough to entirely destroy the hate, selfishness and greed that devastate the planet.
However, each individual carries within them a small but powerful generator of love whose energy is waiting to be released.
When we learn to give and receive this universal energy, dear Lieserl, we will have affirmed that love conquers all, is able to transcend everything and anything, because love is the quintessence of life.
I deeply regret not having been able to express what is in my heart, which has quietly beaten for you all my life. Maybe it’s too late to apologize, but as time is relative, I need to tell you that I love you and thanks to you I have reached the ultimate answer!
Included was a color image of Einstein and a young girl, presumably Lieserl.
We did a reverse image search to determine whether the image showed Einstein and his daughter Lieserl, though the post didn’t explicitly label or caption it as such.
One search engine first crawled the image in a post published in March 2008. That content had since been deleted, but we retrieved an archived copy, which contained no mention of Lieserl or identification of the girl in the image. Another since-deleted post from 2011 included the image, and made no mention of Lieserl Einstein or the letters.
Google Image Search returned dozens of results for the image from Facebook, Pinterest, Blogspot, and other social media sites; none of the entries we located were from a credible source. Google automatically suggested “Albert Einstein y su hija” (“Albert Einstein and his daughter”) as a caption, presumably based on years of the post and copies of it circulating:
An iteration of the image crawled in 2014 (and definitively published before the Facebook post we are looking at here) was part of a blog post bearing the title, “Albert Einstein Very Rare Photos.” It was labeled “colour-photos-of-albert-einstein,” with no mention of a daughter or Lieserl Einstein.
Labeling the image as a color photograph of Einstein made sense and was relevant for another reason. Color photography has actually been around a surprisingly long time, but it was not in widespread use until far later than this — the young girl in the image was likely no older than ten years old, which would place it around 1912 or earlier:
… When color came calling in the ’60s and ’70s, there was no reason for [professional photographers] to answer. But a younger generation did. These are the artists represented in “Starburst: Color Photography in America 1970-1980” at the Princeton Museum, organized by Kevin Moore, an independent curator.
The rise of color in the ’70s had virtually nothing to do with technological advances. The Lumière brothers introduced Autochrome, a color process, in 1907; Kodak’s 35-millimeter color film, Kodachrome, arrived in 1936. Color had been shunned for an entirely different reason: It was used by advertising and amateurs, a liability for a medium struggling to be accepted as art.
We were unable to locate any information about the image, but we did notice that Einstein had gray hair and looked more like a grandfather than a father in the photograph, and color photography did not begin to become accessible enough to be used used for candid images until three decades after Lieserl’s 1902 birth.
Lieserl Einstein purportedly donated 1,400 letters to Hebrew University in the 1980s, letters conditionally released two decades after Albert Einstein’s death. Einstein died in 1955, more than three decades prior to “the late 1980s.”
Einstein was born in 1879, and he would have been approximately 23 years old at the time of Lieserl Einstein’s birth. Even when considering the meme about people in the past looking “older” than people of the same age today, the Einstein seen in the image did not appear to be a man in his twenties.
We found a Wikipedia entry with a section devoted to Lieserl Einstein that summarized the little known about her life, and explained why she was so absent from biographical accounts for her father. We couldn’t help but notice that the details of what little information was available about Lieserl and how her existence came to be known sounded strikingly similar to the story presented in the Facebook post:
Lieserl Einstein (born 27 January 1902; died September 1903) was the first child of Mileva Marić and Albert Einstein.
According to the correspondence between her parents, Lieserl was born on 27 January 1902, a year before her parents married, in Novi Sad, Vojvodina, present-day Serbia … Lieserl’s existence was unknown to biographers until 1986, when a batch of letters between Albert and Mileva Marić was discovered by Hans Albert Einstein’s daughter Evelyn … The first reference to Marić’s pregnancy was found in a letter Einstein wrote to her from Winterthur, probably on 28 May 1901 …
The child must have been born shortly before 4 February 1902, when Einstein wrote: “… now you see that it really is a Lieserl, just as you’d wished. Is she healthy and does she cry properly? […] I love her so much and don’t even know her yet!”
The last time “Lieserl” was mentioned in their extant correspondence was in Einstein’s letter of 19 September 1903 (letter 54), in which he showed concern that she had scarlet fever. His asking “As what is the child registered?” adding “We must take precautions that problems don’t arise for her later” may indicate the intention to give the child up for adoption.
No historical record confirmed that Albert Einstein had ever even met Lieserl during her presumably short life, much less that he provided her 1,400 letters for twenty years of safekeeping. Nevertheless, the discovery in the 1980s of Lieserl’s existence via Einstein’s letters overlapped quite significantly with the contents of the Facebook post.
An archival article published by the New York Times on May 3 1987 (“Two Decade Path of Einstein Papers”) bore a striking similarity to the introductory claims of the Facebook post:
A chance remark in Zurich in 1985 and the subsequent discovery in Berkeley, Calif., of six manuscript pages in the plastic cover of a notebook led to the discovery of about 50 letters between Albert Einstein and his first wife. The letters are to be published this month by Princeton University Press.
The letters, which throw new light on Einstein’s life, his theory of relativity and other contributions to physics, will appear in the first volume of Einstein’s collected papers. Their publication culminates a two-decade period of scholarship and legal skirmishes.
When Einstein died in 1955 his will, dated five years earlier, provided that all of his papers go to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where most of them have now been delivered. It designated his friend, Dr. Otto Nathan, as executor.
Dr. Nathan and Helen Dukas, Einstein’s secretary at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, were named trustees with full rights to publish material from the papers. Dr. Nathan sought to enlarge the collection at Princeton and Miss Dukas organized it, with help from various physicists, notably Dr. Gerald Holton of Harvard University.
That reporting described papers belonging to Einstein that had at the time just been rediscovered, his death in 1955, a “two-decade period,” revelations about “his theory of relativity,” and a provision willing them to the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It seemed that at the time of publication in early 1987, the contents of the letters had not been publicly disclosed, and the date matched up with historians’ discovery of Lieserl’s existence via personal letters between Einstein and his first wife.
A 2016 piece in Scientific American reported on the life of Mileva Marić, speculating that though “nobody has been able to credit her with any specific part of his work, their letters and numerous testimonies presented in the books dedicated to her provide substantial evidence on how they collaborated from the time they met in 1896 up to their separation in 1914.” Lieserl warranted an extremely brief mention in the article:
She gave birth to a girl named Liserl [sic] in January 1902. No one knows what happened to her. She was probably given to adoption. No birth or death certificates were ever found.
Einstein’s ‘Universal Force is LOVE’ Letter
History favoring the theory that Lieserl died in her infancy notwithstanding, the possibility remained of confused provenance for a legitimate writing by Albert Einstein.
Even if Lieserl was not involved, the existence of the letter was not ruled out by the inaccuracy. A brief search of Einstein’s extensive Wikiquote entry did not include the letter’s contents (nor the word “Lieserl,”) even in the “Misattributed” section.
An answer regarding the specific contents of the letter was provided in an August 2015 article by the AllThingsGood.co’s Katherine Rose, who was initially moved by the sentiment of the writing attributed to Einstein. Rose encountered the letter attributed to Einstein in a March 2015 blog post.
Incidentally, that blog post was prefaced in part by the following:
This is one of them, for Lieserl Einstein. More can be found about Lieserl here
“Here” linked to the Wikipedia entry titled “Einstein family,” which indicated Lieserl likely died in infancy. Commenters on the blog post debated its veracity, and were accused of “political correctness”:
I wish people would just get over the fact that this post was about the Letter itself and it’s contents. Don’t you people have anything better in your lives to do then fight for being politically correct? Come on, the letter was about love, who the f++++ cares whether Einstein wrote it or not.
A date-restricted Google search strongly suggested that blog post was the genesis of what would become ironclad internet lore. When search parameters were narrowed to content published prior to March 2014, no results were returned.
In Rose’s article about the questionable attribution, she wrote:
Struck by its beauty, however, I began researching its origins in hopes that it would confirm Einstein as the author and give way to a post about the unlikely musings on love from one of the world’s most brilliant scientists.
What I discovered, however, was a heap of controversy pointing to the fabrication of a letter falsely attributed to Einstein in an attempt to legitimize its words and message.
Rose explained how she determined the attribution was false:
After a search in Hebrew University’s online archives (which houses the Albert Einstein Archives) and the Collected Papers of Albert Einstein failed to yield any results, I was nearly convinced that the letter was, indeed, fabricated.
But, before resting the case, I turned to Diana Kormos-Buchwald, a professor of physics and the history of science at the California Institute of Technology (Caltech), whose name I happened to come across in an article in the New York Times while researching the letter.
As director and editor of the Einstein Papers Project – which just last December  launched The Digital Einstein Papers, making 5,000 documents spanning Einstein’s first 44 years of his life available online – surely Dr. Kormos-Buchwald would be able to provide some clarification regarding the authenticity of this letter.
“This document is not by Einstein. The family letters donated to the Hebrew University – referred to in this rumor – were not given by Lieserl. They were given by Margot Einstein, who was Albert Einstein’s stepdaughter. Many of those letters were published in Volume 10 of The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein in 2006 and in subsequent volumes, in chronological order.”
Rose’s investigation was yet another strike against the claim, which failed on nearly every checkable aspect.
In May 2021, a May 2015 Facebook post claiming “the late 1980s, Lieserl, the daughter of the famous genius, donated 1,400 letters, written by Einstein, to the Hebrew University, with orders not to publish their contents until two decades after his death” re-circulated. It featured a color photograph of Einstein and a young girl (presumably Lieserl), and enjoyed evergreen popularity due to its emotive message and weighty attribution. Though perhaps a nice thought and inspirational story, the post fell apart under cursory examination and on every level of veracity — though elements of it existed as a patchwork of genuine historical events, and it was definitively misattributed. Lieserl’s existence was discovered in the late 1980s through unearthing papers belonging to Einstein. As is very commonly the case, Einstein’s name was likely added to a piece of unattributed writing to lend it credibility, and details of Lieserl’s existence were included in order to amplify the impression of authenticity.