Who was Lieserl Einstein?
Lieserl Einstein was the first child of the celebrated German-born theoretical physicist, Albert Einstein, and his first wife, Serbian mathematician Mileva Marić. Not much is known about Lieserl as the only references to her are found in a few letters that her parents wrote to each other between 1901 and 1903. She is thought to have died from scarlet fever as a toddler in September 1903, but some theories suggest that she may have been adopted and raised by Marić’s close friend Helene Savić. However, this theory was discredited by Savić's grandson and renowned Serbian psychiatrist-psychoanalyst Dr. Milan Popović, who did extensive research on the relationship between Einstein and Marić.
Discovery of Her Existence
The fact, that Albert Einstein had secretly fathered a daughter named Lieserl Einstein before his marriage, first came to light when some of his letters and papers were published in 1986. Among those, were a series of letters that were exchanged between Einstein and his first wife Marić before and around the time their first daughter was born. The correspondence between the then-unmarried couple was discovered by Evelyn, the daughter of Einstein's eldest son Hans Albert Einstein. Lieserl was first mentioned in a letter that her father wrote to her mother from Winterthur around May 28, 1901, in which he mentioned his unborn child as 'the boy' and 'our little son' twice. Her name was first mentioned by Marić, who appears to be wishing for a daughter. She called the unborn child ‘Lieserl', a feminine name, in a letter written from Stein am Rhein, dated November 13, 1901. In his next letter, dated December 12, 1901, Einstein mentioned that while he was happy about ‘Lieserl’, he still secretly hoped for a 'Hanserl', which is a masculine name in German. Einstein’s letter dated February 4th, 1902, which must have been written after the child’s birth, confirms that the couple had a daughter. In it, he enquires about her health and expresses his love for her.
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Family & Personal Life
Based on the correspondence between Lieserl Einstein's parents, Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić, it is generally accepted that she was born on January 27, 1902 in Novi Sad, Vojvodina, now situated in Serbia. At the time of Lieserl’s birth, her father was working in Switzerland, while her mother lived in her hometown in Serbia. Earlier, 22-years-old Einstein had fallen in love with Marić, a fellow physics student. However, his mother Pauline Einstein warned him against the relationship, saying that "If she gets a child, you'll be in a pretty mess." However, they continued their affair, giving birth to Lieserl in secret. Einstein and Marić got married in Bern, Switzerland, in 1903. A letter from Einstein, dated September 19, 1903, was the last time that Lieserl was ever mentioned by her parents. After that, neither of them publicly spoke about losing their first child. As a result, nothing is known about her fate up until now, except a few hypotheses that emerged after the letters were made public. After their marriage, the Einsteins welcomed two sons, Hans, who became an engineer, and Eduard, a psychiatrist.
Controversies & Hypotheses
In a letter that Albert Einstein wrote to Mileva Marić in September 1903, he enquired about his Lieserl’s health who appears to have contracted scarlet fever. In the letter, he also asked if Lieserl was registered – an enquiry that has eluded the scholars about the child’s fate ever since the letter’s discovery. One theory that stemmed from Michele Zackheim's book 'Einstein's Daughter: The Search for Lieserl' (1999) speculates that the child was born with a mental disability, potentially Down syndrome, which made her uneducable and unsuitable for orphanages of the time. As adoption would not have been an option either, she was looked after by her mother's family and possibly died of scarlet fever in September 1903.
Another popular theory suggests that since Lieserl was born out of wedlock, she was given up for adoption out of fear that Einstein's new career as a patent-office examiner in Calvinist Bern would be affected. However, the fact that her parents got married soon after her birth proves that they were probably ready to legitimize the child. In his book, Einstein expert Robert Schulmann favored the theory that Lieserl was adopted by Marić's close friend Helene Savić, who raised her as 'Zorka Savić'. While she did raise a blind daughter named Zorka who lived until the 1990s, Savić’s grandson Dr. Milan Popović, who researched on Einstein’s personal life until his death in 2012, eventually rejected the theory. There was also a fake letter circulating on the internet, which was being claimed to be "a letter from Albert Einstein to his daughter".