Bernhard divides his time between Switzerland and California. He attended university in Zurich, then worked for the Swiss army, developing armor plating for tanks. He once recalled that when he was 25, his grandfather “talked to me for the first time ever about physics. He asked me what I know about energy, but he dropped the question immediately when he realized that I could not discuss the subject on his terms. That was the last time I saw him.”
Bernhard’s sister, Evelyn, is the only one of Albert’s descendants who still speaks openly with me. She lives in a home that is a jumble of history. When I first met her, in 1995, she was in her fifties, with cropped brown and silver hair, dressed in black pants and sandals and a bright crimson shirt. On her collar was a silver Star Trek pin. Due to illness, she could barely walk. She scooted among leaning towers of paper in an old wheelchair decorated with garishly colored plastic Star Trek gewgaws. On the day I visited, her house was a disaster. A water pipe had broken and flooded the living room; every surface was covered with piles of damp papers, and the sofa was heaped with dissolving cardboard boxes.
“Don’t be concerned; my house is always a bit upside down,” Evelyn said, laughing. She invited me to sit on the clammy sofa. “I have to apologize for not dressing up for your visit,” she continued with precise diction in a deep, lilting voice. “You see, my mother didn’t teach me how to dress. And, as you can see”—she gave a sweeping gesture—“I have inherited my family’s slovenly behavior. I’m not elegant.”
Evelyn was an infant when she was adopted by Hans Albert and Frieda. I listened in astonishment as she told me, “Since I was young, I have been told that I was really Albert Einstein’s daughter.” She believes that she may, in fact, be the result of an affair he had with a dancer in New York. But she does not insist: “I realized that this big, dark secret about my birth was an open book to many people. Since I have no proof, I thought that if I broached this subject to people they would think that I am crazy, a total fruitcake! So I never spoke about it.” Thus Hans Albert, Evelyn’s adoptive father, may possibly be her half brother, and Evelyn’s brother, Bernhard, may be her nephew. Evelyn takes perverse delight in the scenario.
Evelyn, born in 1941, is a highly intelligent woman, but her life as an Einstein has been awful. From the beginning, she felt closer to her mother and distant from her father. Married and then divorced, she had no children. Among a number of other jobs, she worked as a dogcatcher, a reserve policewoman, and a cult deprogrammer. After battling cancer and liver disease, she began to slide downhill. For a while she was living in her car and eating out of the trash. “I can tell you every good garbage Dumpster in the area,” she said, “but I never panhandled a penny.” With tenacity she pulled herself up, began to collect disability insurance, and settled down to a cloistered life, still possessing a wry sense of humor.
“When I was 14,” Evelyn said, “Bernhard took me for a ride on his motorcycle to the woods outside Zurich and told me that his wife, Aude [Albert’s granddaughter-in-law], was pregnant. After Thomas was born, I remember feeling bad that my grandfather, Albert, did not live long enough to meet his first great-grandchild.” I met Thomas in 1995 when I joined him and his aunt Evelyn for lunch at a fish restaurant in California. A handsome, quiet man, he seemed nervous about being with Evelyn but was very polite. In the conversation, he mentioned a “trust.” Evelyn asked what it was. Thomas jumped to another subject, but I could see fire roiling in Evelyn’s eyes. She later filed a complaint in California state court, alleging that her nephew and the trust’s attorney had hidden a cache of letters from Albert Einstein to various family members estimated to be worth $15 million. Evelyn and her brother, Bernhard, had been named the beneficiaries of the trust. After a long legal battle and negotiations, the case was settled.
Thomas, the father of three teenagers, is a physician, certified in emergency medicine and anesthesiology. He presently administers anesthesia for plastic, dental, and oral surgeons in California.
Evelyn’s favorite nephew seems to be Bernhard’s second son, Paul Einstein, born in 1958. Since Paul was musically inclined, Bernhard gave him Albert Einstein’s violin. Today he is married and living in the south of France, where he is a composer and violinist. In 2004 Paul performed at the German Physical Society’s celebration of Einstein’s 125th birthday in Ulm, where Albert was born. Paul played Mozart’s Sonata in E Minor, Albert’s favorite piece.
Eduard (Ted) Einstein, Aude and Bernhard’s third son, was born in 1960. Instead of going to college, he learned masonry and construction. He now owns several furniture warehouses and a retail furniture store in the Los Angeles area, where he is married, with children. Ted once appeared in a commercial driving a new Oldsmobile, touting its worth and declaring, “You don’t have to be an Einstein to figure that out.”
Aude and Bernhard’s only daughter, Mira Einstein Yehieli, was born in 1965 and now lives in Israel with her husband, a musician, and family. Evelyn told me that the last time she saw Mira was many years ago. “She was quite pretty, musically talented.”
Charly Einstein, Aude and Bernhard’s last child, was born in 1971. He and his family live in Switzerland, where, according to a childhood friend, he grew up loving computer games, at one point selling them at a store he owned called Einstein’s World. Later he worked as a spokesman for a large hospital in Switzerland.
In an online posting, great-grandson Charly addressed what it was like being related to Albert Einstein: “Sometimes it appears to me that people think that he is some kind of God. Therefore it feels like many look upon me as if I was a great-grandson of God. To be honest, that is an extremely weird and alien feeling to me.”
Albert Einstein was an anomaly; neither his parents nor any of his progeny showed his inspired scientific insight. Despite that—despite his grappling with his last name—Charly feels a common thread connecting him and the rest of the family to his great-grandfather. “We Einsteins do not believe in authority. We solve problems in highly unconventional ways,” he has said, “in our own way.”