Despite being a significant public figure, Albert Einstein had some deep, dark skeletons in his closet. Taking his secrets to the grave, it was not until years later that historians discovered the truth.
Albert Einstein is one of the most famous physicists of all time. As one of the brightest brains in history, his name has become synonymous with the word 'genius,' and his body of work is highly well known.
What is less well-known is his private life. While many will be familiar with the women he was involved with or the fact that he had two sons, there is one intimate detail about his life that many are unaware of. Einstein actually had a firstborn daughter who has largely remained a mysterious secret.
The Illegitimate Daughter
It's well-known that Einstein had two sons, Hans Albert and Eduard, with his wife, Mileva Marić. His children were the topic of much discussion - had they inherited their father's high level of intelligence? What had become of them? Many wanted inside information on their relationship with their famous father.
But before Hans Albert and Eduard came Lieserl Einstein. She was born to Albert and Mileva before they were married. As the couple's illegitimate daughter, most are unaware of her existence. So what was with all of the secrecy? Were the pair simply embarrassed about her illegitimacy? Or was there more to this story?
Going back to the very beginning, Mileva Marić, the wife of Einstein, met her husband in 1901 at the Federal Polytechnic University of Zurich. Like Albert, she majored in physics and mathematics, and they had bonded over their love for the complex sciences. Soon enough, they were a couple.
According to Scientific American, the pair were inseparable, spending hours studying together. Mileva would help Albert with his studies as he had an overwhelming amount of energy, which was sometimes challenging to channel. She is often credited for contributing significantly to his groundbreaking science.
Rekindling The Love
After discovering she was pregnant with Albert's child, Mileva returned to Serbia to have the baby. As a pregnant, unmarried woman, she faced criticism and public shame. While she gave birth, Einstein stayed behind in Switzerland and finished his studies.
In 1903, the couple was reunited. After receiving permission from his dying father to marry Mileva, the couple made things official in a ceremony on January 6, 1903. From then on, they lived a happy life together. Albert worked long days while Mileva took on domestic tasks.
The Missing Child
As Einstein grew in popularity and fame, photos of him and his family were constantly published in public publications. First of the physicist with his wife and then images of their two children as the years went on. Historical records today contain these photographs.
But one thing noticeably missing from these images is their firstborn child, Lieserl. There appear to be no photographs of her in all of these records. "Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić with their first son, Hans Einstein, in 1904," the descriptions read. Lieserl's existence was, and often still is, overlooked.
Albert and Marić took the secret of their firstborn child to the grave. They kept the news of her existence between them, never formally discussing or confirming the fact that she had been born or what had happened to her. It was all just rumors - with no official proof.
Mileva passed away in 1948, and Albert died seven years later in 1955. Neither revealed the truth about their daughter to anyone, even in the final moments on their deathbed. They had kept their lips sealed till their very last breath. Would the truth ever be revealed? And why such secrecy?
Over thirty years after Einstein passed, rumors about the famous physicist's mysterious daughter began picking up speed. This was when historians discovered a batch of secret letters that had been written between Albert and Mileva. With these, they would soon have some of the answers they were searching for.
First discovered by Albert Einstein's granddaughter, Evelyn, this newfound evidence held so much potential for groundbreaking discoveries about Einstein's personal life. For the first time, there was confirmation of Lieserl's existence in black and white. So, where had she been all this time? Where did she go?
Connecting the Dots
Unfortunately, once the initial excitement had died down, the historians were disappointed to discover that there was very little concrete information about the mysterious child in question. Pouring through the letters, word by word, they were able to decipher a few minor details about Lieserl.
From the written evidence, they confidently determined that Lieserl Einstein was born on January 27, 1902. She was born in Újvidék, a city in the then Austro-Hungarian Kingdom of Hungary, now a part of Serbia. With this, the historians hoped it would be a stepping stone to finding more information. But would it?
More Dead Ends
With Lieserl's birthdate and place of birth, they were sure they would be able to locate her official birth certificate or other official documentation. This would bring further light to her existence and the life she led, whether with or without her famous parents.
Again, however, they were met by another dead end. After reaching out to different governmental departments, there were told there was no birth certificate, medical record, or death certificate! They even began to doubt whether Lieserl was her real name because it was a representative girl's name in German.
After 35 letters between the couple, finally, letter number 36 contained the first mention of the pregnancy in question. In a letter written by Albert from Winterthur on 28 May 1901, the physicist asked Marić about "the boy" and their "little son." Mileva did not directly mention the unborn child until November 13, 1901 in letter 43.
In this letter, she wrote to Albert, referring to it as "Hanserl" for a boy and "Lieserl" for a girl. She made it clear in the letters that she longed for the baby to be a girl. Albert joked with her that he secretly wanted it to be a boy. Finally, on January 27, 1902, Mileva gave birth to a baby girl.
Begging For Details
From afar, Albert eagerly awaited every detail about his daughter. He wrote consistently to Mileva, asking her to provide more information about their newborn child. "Is she healthy, and does she already cry properly?" he asked. "What kind of little eyes does she have? Whom of us two does she resemble more?"
At the end of the long, question-filled note, he expressed his love for the child he had yet to meet. "I love her so much, and I don't even know her yet!" he wrote. "Couldn't she be photographed once you are totally healthy again?" he requested that Mileva at least provide a sketch of their child for him to see.
Starting a New Chapter
In January 1903, Mileva and Einstein reunited in Bern, Switzerland, to get married. It seemed, however, that Marić did not bring Lieserl with her to Switzerland - and she did not appear to be in their lives from then on. As much became known about Einstein's private life, many did not know he had a firstborn daughter.
There was no mention of her existence in the letters between the couple from September 1903 onwards. It seemed as if she had disappeared from the world entirely. Now the historians were confident she definitely existed - they were more motivated than ever to work out what really happened to her.
Piecing It All Together
Working with the bit of evidence they had, they did their best to put it all together and hypothesize the events leading up to the wedding of 1903. They believed that Mileva, as the only woman in her physics class, was forced to return home when she fell pregnant.
Unmarried and pregnant, her reputation had been severely compromised, and she lost the little respect she had gained from her male peers. Her study plans had been disrupted, and she had no choice but to drop out of university and return home. She never received her university degree.
No Parental Approval
To make matters more complicated, Albert's parents disapproved of Mileva. Their greatest concern was their age gap, as his mother was displeased that she was three years older than her son. "When you're 30, that woman is already an old woman," she had said, as recalled by Albert to Mileva in a letter from 1900.
His parents were also unhappy that she was not Jewish or German. As far as his mother was concerned, she was too intellectual and had prejudices against foreign people. Ultimately, he would go against his mother's wishes and marry her - but that was still a few years down the line.
Putting His Career First?
This theory helps explain where Mileva was during this time and why she had gone abroad to give birth to the couple's child. But still, questions remain as to why Einstein kept his daughter's existence a secret. Was he not proud of being the girl's father?
Historians further explain that there was a genuine and sad reason why he was forced to keep her identity hidden. At the time, Albert was working in a Swiss patent office. To them and the rest of society at the time, having an illegitimate daughter was highly disapproved. It could have cost him his career.
The Final Mention
But the last time Lieserl is mentioned in the letters provides further insight into what may have happened to the child. It also suggests a different theory about what was behind her disappearance. Based on the messages, it seems she contracted a dangerous rash, causing her to become very ill.
In a letter written in September 1903, Albert wrote to Mileva, expressing his sadness to hear their daughter had fallen ill. "I am deeply saddened by the misfortune that has befallen our daughter Lieserl. The rash is prone to long-term complications," he wrote. "It's so easy to have lasting effects from scarlet fever."
Lieserl had caught scarlet fever at just 21 months old and struggled greatly to fight off the condition. So, is this what was behind her disappearance? Had she passed away from the illness after being unable to recover? Later letters between the pair suggest otherwise.
"If only this will pass," he wrote. "As what is the child registered? We must take precautions that problems don't arise for her later," Albert wrote to Marić. This suggests that she did survive the episode of Scarlet Fever. Over the years, historians and researchers have come up with two alternate theories...
The main theories that have grown in popularity can be split into two main camps. There are those who believe Lieserl did indeed pass away as a child, perhaps from this episode of Scarlet Fever or from another medical condition she developed later on in her life.
The alternate proposition? That Einstein and Milerva decided to give up their eldest child for adoption. Digging into both of these theories further, it seems both are feasible options. Ultimately, however, we have yet to find conclusive evidence to suggest the actual truth.
Experts Weigh In
A book by Michele Zackheim titled Einstein's Daughter: The Search for Lieserl was an explosive new development in the case of Einstein's missing daughter. After researching many piles of evidence and speaking with numerous Serbians about their family trees, Zackheim developed and published her theory.
According to her hypothesis, Lieserl had been born with medical defects, which is the reason Mileva decided to leave her behind in the care of her family. If this was the case, Zackheim maintains that Einstein would have never met her as she passed away a few months before her second birthday.
Creative Genius, "Dreadful" Father
Zackheim maintains that Lieserl had been kept under wraps in an effort to protect the genius's reputation as a moral and ethically correct man. A father who abandoned his child to die because she was born with various medical development issues did not align with this public image, she explained.
"There's a real attempt to keep Einstein as the icon of humanitarianism and goodness, and he wasn't good," Zackheim boldly argues. "He was an enormously talented creative genius, and he was a dreadful father and a dreadful person and not kind to his children at all."
Hidden From The Family?
In line with this theory, many suspect that Einstein further kept the existence of his daughter a secret from his parents and the rest of his family. Considering that he never met her, it's more than possible that he never felt the need to alert them of her birth. He knew they already disapproved of Mileva.
A letter written by Einstein's mother to her son weeks after Liesel's birth suggests, however, that she did know about her grandchild. "This Miss Marić is causing me the bitterest hours of my life. If it were in my power, I would make every possible effort to banish her from our horizon. I really dislike her," she wrote.
Living a Double Life
The other line of thought, brought forward by Robert Schulmann of the Einstein Papers Project, was that Lieserl was given up for adoption before her parents married in 1903. Schulmann suspects that she had been taken in by one of Marić's closest friends, Helene Savić.
This theory suggests that Lieserl's name was changed to Zorka Savić, and she lived until the 1990s. In support of this, it is known that Savić did raise a child named Zorka, who was blind from childhood and died in the 1990s. Her grandchild, who was familiar with Marić and Savić's close relationship, has since rejected this idea.
But by 1904, Mileva had fallen pregnant again. Based on Albert's response to her telling him the news, it was clear she was scared to inform her husband about this pregnancy. One can't help but wonder why she was apprehensive this time. Had he poorly reacted the first time?
Albert was excited. This time was different - they were married, and it would only work this time to improve his public image. "My dear wife, I am not at all angry when I find out that we have a child. In fact, I am extremely happy about it, will we have another child? Cute girl anymore," he replied to her.
A New Lieserl
Just months after they had stopped discussing their daughter Lieserl in the letters, they were now discussing the new baby and referring to it as a "new Lieserl." Einstein told his wife he had been thinking about giving her another child, who he refers to generically as a Lieserl.
"I had already given some thought to whether I shouldn't see to it that you get a new Lieserl," he wrote to his wife of one year. His mind had seemingly moved on from the daughter he had left behind, and he was choosing to focus on his future ahead with his new children.
On 14 May 1904, their son Hans-Albert was born. Almost immediately, it was abundantly clear he had inherited the intellectual intelligence of his brilliant father. Just like his dad, he was an incredibly talented scientist specializing in hydraulic engineering at UC Berkeley.
Albert was relieved that Hans had not been born with the same medical issues as his first daughter. It appeared as if the curse had been broken, and the couple's oldest son was following in his father's footsteps. Their next child, however, was not as fortunate - and Albert's parenting skills were pushed to the limits…
More Troubling News
Mileva Marić gave birth to the couple's third child, Eduard, on July 28, 1910. Lovingly referred to by his family as "Tete," he was a sick child from very early on in his life. Already in the first years, he was constantly unwell with various illnesses. And he was often unable to join in on family trips as a result.
Even after Albert and Mileva separated in 1914, Einstein remained devastated about his son's medical condition, recognizing that it meant he would be unable to develop fully. Albert vowed to correct past wrongs and do things differently this time. He knew he had to help his son in whatever way he could.
Lost in the Shadows
Despite his medical setbacks, Eduard showed promise. He was an ambitious, well-behaved, and self-disciplined student. Although he had a great talent for music, poetry, and piano, his ultimate dream was to become a successful medical student. In an attempt to be like his father, he enrolled in Zurich University.
But after his academic successes, Eduard struggled to deal with his father's level of fame. "It's at times difficult to have such an important father because one feels so unimportant," he famously wrote. Dealing with these feelings of inadequacy and the breakdown of a romantic relationship, Eduard's mental health began to spiral.
Unfortunately, things took a negative turn when Eduard showed signs of schizophrenia. As the condition worsened, he was eventually institutionalized at the Burghölzli Psychiatric University hospital in Zurich. There, at 21 years old, he was subjected to electroconvulsive treatments that damaged his cognitive capabilities.
By this point, it was the early 1930s, and Germany's anti-Semitism campaign was reaching new heights. It was no longer safe for Einstein to be in Berlin, where he had been since leaving the family in 1914. He was forced to flee to the United States in 1933 and leave Eduard behind.
Another Sudden Goodbye
Albert had desperately hoped his sons would be able to join him in America eventually. However, Eduard's worsening condition made this impossible. Before he had escaped, Albert visited his dear son in the asylum. He did not know at the time that would be their last meeting.
Albert made the utmost effort to keep in touch with his son from across the ocean, writing him letters and sending money for his treatments. Unfortunately, Eduard died from a stroke at 55 years old. Another one of Albert Einstein's children had left this world before their time - another devastating blow for the academic genius.
The Mystery Continues...
Despite all the thorough research and investigations conducted to uncover the mystery of Einstein's mysterious daughter, there has still yet to be a confirmed conclusion. Ultimately all that is known for sure is that behind the brains and success lay a tragedy-filled personal life.
The man who dedicated his life to solving the world's most complicated scientific problems ironically died, leaving behind the most remarkable mystery. A real-life conundrum about his personal life that has proved to be unsolvable. Perhaps, as he had planned, we will never know the truth...