Nationality: the case of Albert Einstein

Einstein was born in Germany and lived there as a child. By the time he died, he’d renounced his German citizenship and acquired two other citizenships, first Swiss and then American, which he kept throughout his life. So it’s not at all easy to describe his nationality. (I’m on this case because of the Swiss part of the story, of course.)

The story from Wikipedia, which starts by cagily describing him as merely “German-born”:

Albert Einstein (14 March 1879 – 18 April 1955) was a German-born theoretical physicist who developed the theory of relativity, one of the two pillars of modern physics (alongside quantum mechanics).

… Near the beginning of his career, Einstein thought that Newtonian mechanics was no longer enough to reconcile the laws of classical mechanics with the laws of the electromagnetic field. This led him to develop his special theory of relativity during his time at the Swiss Patent Office in Bern (1902–1909), Switzerland.

… Except for one year in Prague, Einstein lived in Switzerland between 1895 and 1914 [between his mid-teens and his mid-30s], during which time he renounced his German citizenship in 1896, then received his academic diploma from the Swiss federal polytechnic school (later the Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule, ETH) in Zürich in 1900. After being stateless for more than five years, he acquired Swiss citizenship in 1901, which he kept for the rest of his life. In 1905, he was awarded a PhD by the University of Zurich. The same year, he published four groundbreaking papers during his renowned annus mirabilis (miracle year) which brought him to the notice of the academic world at the age of 26. Einstein taught theoretical physics at Zürich between 1912 and 1914 before he left for Berlin, where he was elected to the Prussian Academy of Sciences.

In 1933, while Einstein was visiting the United States, Adolf Hitler came to power. Because of his Jewish background, Einstein did not return to Germany. He settled in the United States and became an American citizen in 1940.

At least Switzerland can claim him for his annus mirabilis, when he was a citizen of Switzerland and no other country.


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