Albert Einstein, Hans Kaufmann and Zionism

An unknown letter (symposium, video recording available)

 A man who writes and a man who reads sit next to each other

Roman Vishniac, Albert Einstein in his office, Princeton University, New Jersey, 1942; The Magnes Collection of Jewish Art and Life, UC Berkeley, CC BY-NC-SA 2,0; and Hans Kaufmann, photo: Judy Kaufmann

On 12 Sep­tember 1942, in the middle of the Second World War, Albert Ein­stein wrote a letter to nineteen-year-old German-Jewish refugee Hans Kaufmann in Santiago de Chile. In it, he ex­presses grave mis­givings about the creation of a central authority to protect Jewish interests. The letter was in answer to a communi­cation by the young man in which he had asked Einstein to head a Jewish orga­nization which would defend the interests of Jews, their dignity, and the project of a national home in Pales­tine. In cele­bration of the gift of this impor­tant letter penned by the world-famous Nobel prize winner, the Archive of the Jewish Museum Berlin is hosting a sympo­sium dedi­cated to topics relevant to the letters of Hans Kauf­mann and Albert Ein­stein: the history of the Kauf­mann family, German-Jewish emigration to Chile during the Nazi era, Albert Einstein’s attitude towards the Jewish national project, and the status of Zio­nism in the year 1942.

With Ofer Ashkenazi, Daniel Kaufmann, Judy Kaufmann, Derek Penslar, Aubrey Pomerance and Irmtrud Wojak.

recording available

Map with all buildings that belong to the Jewish Museum Berlin. The W. M. Blumenthal Academy is marked in green


W. M. Blumenthal Academy,
Klaus Mangold Auditorium
Fromet-und-Moses-Mendelssohn-Platz 1, 10969 Berlin
(Opposite the Museum)


Welcome Julia Friedrich, Director of Collections at the JMB
Introduction Aubrey Pomerance, Head of Archives at the JMB
A family perspective on Albert Einstein’s letter to Hans Kaufmann Daniel and Judy Kaufmann, donors
German Jewish Emigration to Chile during the period of National Socialism Irmtrud Wojak, Fritz Bauer Forum and Buxus Foundation
Coffee break
"I am a Zionist, not a National Jew": Albert Einstein's Zionism Ofer Ashkenazi, Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Zionism in the Abyss of War Derek Penslar (remote presentation), Harvard University


Julia Friedrich is Director of Collections at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

Aubrey Pomerance is Head of Archives at the Jewish Museum Berlin.

Daniel and Judy Kaufmann are Hans Kaufmann’s eldest son and granddaughter respectively. They were both born and raised in Santiago, Chile, where Hans Kaufmann fled from Germany in 1939 with his parents. Judy is an illustrator based in Barcelona, from where she has published illustrated children's books for different countries, while Daniel, a Hebrew University graduate, lives between Washington DC and Nice, working, writing and teaching on international development and global governance. Both are globetrotters, cyclists, and avid readers. Although they have not been living in the same country, they remain very close.

Irmtrud Wojak is Managing Director of the Fritz Bauer Forum and the Buxus Foundation. She is a historian, author and curator. Her research focuses on contemporary legal history, exile, and cultures of memory. In 2004 Wojak curated the first major exhibition on the Auschwitz trial, and in 2009 she published the authoritative Fritz Bauer Biography. She was Deputy Director at the Fritz Bauer Institute in Frankfurt until 2005. In 2007/08, she was Head of the Historical Department at the International Tracing Service (Bad Arolsen) and founded the NS Documentation Center in Munich.

Ofer Ashkenazi is an Associate Professor of History and Director of the Richard Koebner-Minerva Center for German History at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He has published on various topics related to German and German-Jewish history, including the interwar peace movement in Germany, Albert Einstein's politics, German Jews in Mandate Palestine, and the participation of Jews in German visual culture. His previous book is entitled Anti-Heimat Cinema: The Jewish Invention of the German Landscape (U. Michigan Press, 2020). His current project deals with Jewish photography in Nazi Germany.

Derek Penslar is the William Lee Frost Professor of Jewish History at Harvard University. Penslar takes a comparative and transnational approach to Jewish history, which he examines in the context of modern capitalism, nationalism, and colonialism. Penslar’s most recent books are Theodor Herzl: The Charismatic Leader (2020/German ed. 2022) and Zionism: An Emotional State, which will be published next year. He is currently working on a book entitled The War for Palestine, 1948: A Global History. Penslar is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and Honorary Fellow of St. Anne’s College, Oxford.

Where, when, what?

  • WhenMon 12 Sep 2022, 1.30 pm
  • Where W. M. Blumenthal Academy,
    Klaus Mangold Auditorium
    Fromet-und-Moses-Mendelssohn-Platz 1, 10969 Berlin (Opposite the Museum)
    See location on map

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