Maja Winteler-Einstein’s (1881-1951) personal archives, an invaluable collection of sepia-toned photographs and postcards, has rare letters authored by her brother, Albert Einstein. These letters—several of them made public for the first time—were offered in a dedicated online auction by Christie’s, earlier this month titled Einstein And Family: Letters And Portraits. They provide telling insight into the Nobel prize winning physicist’s life. The total amount raised was £526,750 (around Rs4.8 crore).

Written in German, the letters function as mini-chapters in Einstein’s life, telling us about his relationships with his mother, sister, first wife and children.

A letter penned on 10 November 1919 (price realized, £3,000) conveys the image of an anxious Einstein worried about finding lodging for his terminally ill mother. “Mama’s care is causing a lot of difficulty and excitement; the landlord is resisting tooth and nail against the idea that we might have a room in our building outside our flat," he writes. The letter, in hasty, cursive writing—coming apart slightly at the fold—reveals the scientist’s crippling poverty. Yet, even amidst the chaos, Einstein is desperate to get back to work. “Apparently the only remaining possibility is to place Mama with the nurse in my study," he writes. “...Hopefully all the difficulties can be overcome in the end, so that I can again recover a calm head for work!"

Although he does not mention his academic triumph, his work had achieved global recognition just three days before he wrote the letter. Newspapers the world over declared his theory of general relativity a success.

It’s common knowledge that Einstein shared a strained relationship with his first wife, Mileva Marić, whom he described as “a great pig". In 1918, a hopeful Einstein promised Marić the Nobel prize money if he won it (“worth about $32,000", according to The New York Times), if she agreed to divorce him. Marić agreed, and, in 1919, Einstein married his cousin Elsa.

In 1921, he did win the Noble prize in physics, and instantly became a global phenomenon. In a letter to Winteler-Einstein dated 15 April 1923, he tells her he had given his first wife the prize money. In the same letter, he describes his newfound celebrity status as a double-edged sword: “I am becoming very much loved and even more envied." This letter was auctioned for £27,500.

In 1933, when Germany came under the Nazi regime, Einstein was instantly declared a public enemy. He found refuge in England, and would eventually leave for the US with his wife, Elsa. In September 1933, an apprehensive Einstein wrote to his sister, wondering whether he would ever be able to return home. “What will happen, if we come back from Princeton next year....

Will we actually be able to do that?" The letter was auctioned for £18,750. On 7 October 1933, Einstein left for the US, never to return to Europe. He died in 1955, aged 76, in Princeton.

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