Curators at the Merseyside Maritime Museum have found Albert Einstein’s landing card, an immigration document he completed in his own hand upon arrival in Britain in 1933, in the files of the UK Border Agency’s Heathrow office. They were looking for documents to exhibit in their new UK Border Agency National Museum, a newly established collaboration between the National Museums Liverpool and the UK Border Agency and HM Revenue and Customs, but were looking more for interesting seizures or illegalities. They were shocked to stumble on Einstein’s immigration papers from when he fled Germany and went to England for a short while before settling permanently in the US.
Einstein had been a professor at the Prussian Academy of Science in Berlin since 1914. He took a two-month winter teaching job at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena in the winter of 1932, fully expecting to return to his regular job in Berlin once the term was over. Then Adolf Hitler came to power in January of 1933, and in February of 1933 Hitler staged the Reichstag Fire, suspending all political and civil rights in Germany in reaction. Then came the book-burnings (Einstein’s works among them), the “Boycott of Jews” day, the ban on Jews holding public sector jobs.
Einstein returned to Europe in March of 1933, but seeing the writing on the wall, he stopped in Antwerp, Belgium rather than returning home to Berlin. He found out that not only would he be actively persecuted, but also that his name was on a list of government assassination targets. A magazine in Germany actually printed such an enemies list. Einstein was on it, listed as “not yet hanged.”
He resigned his position at the Prussian Academy of Science, then he renounced his German citizenship. He got on a ferry to Dover from Oostende, Belgium on May 26, 1933. When he arrived at Dover, he filled in a landing card, as did all foreign nationals. He wrote in his name, stated his occupation as “professor,” and most tellingly of all, he wrote “Swiss” as his nationality. He added a note to the back of the document explaining that he was on his way to Oxford University to deliver a series of lectures.
Einstein remained at Oxford only for a few months. He was given an armed guard while he was there to protect him from any Nazi hit squads or individuals looking to cash in the $5,000 bounty on his head. He went to New York in October of 1933, planning to return to Oxford in a permanent teaching position, but as the political situation in Europe got increasingly scary, he decided instead to remain in the US as professor at the Institute for Advanced Study at Princeton University, New Jersey.