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> In Romania, rediscovering Albert Einstein Issue: 2010-1 Section: 14-16

Romanian

 

Scientists

Albert Einstein has never been to Romania. But some of his letters have, for years, changed the destiny of a young girl, Melania Serbu. The correspondence between the two started in the autumn of 1928 and lasted for 20 years.

Everything started with an envelope addressed as follows: To Professor Albert Einstein, The Discoverer of the Theory Of Relativity, Berlin, Germany.

Melania had discovered in the short story Sarmanul Dionis (published in 1872), written by our national poet Mihai Eminescu, some elements related to the theory of restrained relativity, formulated by Albert Einstein in 1905.

At the beginning of the short story Eminescu wrote about the relativity of the size of the objects around us: And the things I can see, when looked at with one eye, seem smaller; with both – bigger; but how big are they absolutely? Who knows? We may be living in a microscopic world and could it be that it is only our eyes that make us see at the size that we actually do?

The poet also assumed that all the events in our lives are the results of our own thoughts: In fact the world is the dream of our souls. There is no time, no space – they are only inside our souls.

Albert Einstein would send Melania, who was 18 at the time, books of mathematics and physics so that she could understand the theory of relativity. Guided in her self-taught studies by her brilliant intelligence but also by the kindness of the scholar, Melania discovers the beauty of physics and of the theory of relativity.

The young girl declared her wish to study mathematics and physics at the university but because she had finished a commercial high school she had not taken a baccalaureate exam.

Under these circumstances, Einstein wrote to the Minister of Education in Romania, Nicolae Iorga, an outstanding personality in the history of interwar Romania. Einstein expressed his opinion that Melania should be tested so that she might have the opportunity of studying at the University.

The Minister reacted promptly: he altered the existing law by introducing a new type of exam for the people in Melania’s situation. She succeeded and then passed her baccalaureate exam.

Hired at a bank in Brasov, Melania obtained a scholarship from Nicolae Malaxa, the industrialist, but she was unable to take advantage of it.

Albert Einstein intervened once again and sent a letter to his successor to the Physics Department in the University of Prague, asking him to accept Melania as a student.

The young lady was accepted but she was then to have a hard time as she had to face the anti-Semitism of the late thirties.

Most of the German-speaking students in Prague were members of Heinlein’s National-Socialist Party. The students who would have liked to talk to me were prevented by the others even to greet me. If I sat in a desk in the conference hall, all the seats around me would remain empty. Because of this atmosphere Melania moved to Switzerland, in Zurich, where she was to earn a doctorate in physics.

These letters unveil a part of Einstein’s personality, always very discreet. You should know that as a student I was in my turn discouraged by the enormous wisdom university used to abuse me with. Only later did I manage to understand that most of the information provided there was not as rational and useful as I had thought at the beginning. Do not attend the courses you cannot understand comfortably and which do not match your talent. The most important thing is that you learn to master step by step the elementary concepts of superior mathematics and their applications in physics.

 

In 1940, because her scholarship was interrupted, Melania returned to Romania and was again subjected to racial discrimination. When the war ended, Melania became a teacher of mathematics and physics, as Einstein encouraged her in his last letters, to totally and passionately dedicate herself to teaching.

 

Bibliography

 

Iconography

 

Acknowledgements

My thanks to:

  • Mrs. Marcela Niculae, teacher of physics
  • Mrs. Liliana Radu, teacher of English
  • who supported me in writing this article.


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