Regarding Lieserl

Despite having the highest grades in his graduating class at the Zurich Polytechnic, Einstein was unable to find a job after graduation.  It was understood that such a student would become the assistant to one of the professors there, but thanks to Einstein’s having failed to attend class and an impudence that  came off as arrogant, even the professors who had originally recognized and reveled in his peculiar genius refused to hire him.  Eventually he suspected them of sabotaging his efforts to get work elsewhere.  At last his friend Grossman was able to secure him a position in the patent office in Bern.  He abandoned a student he had been tutoring and moved to Bern in January 1902.  (Is this a pattern?)


Meanwhile, his relationship with a Serbian classmate, Mileva Maric, a woman nearly his equal in her passion for physics, had grown to the point of sexual intimacy.  She became pregnant and returned to her home in Novi Sad, to her family, to wait out the pregnancy.  The child, Lieserl, remained unknown to Einstein scholars until the publication of letters found in the safety deposit box of Einstein’s son, Hans Albert’s second wife.  Hans’ first wife had cleaned out Mileva Maric’s Zurich apartment on her death in 1948.  Voila. 

Mileva eventually became Einstein’s wife and they had two sons together, both recognized, but this little girl Lieserl–?  She was delivered at Mileva’s parents’ home in Novi Sad—a labor so difficult that she was unable to write to Einstein, so her father notified him.

“Is she healthy, and does she cry properly?” Einstein wrote back.  What are her eyes like?  Which one of us does she more resemble?  Who is giving her milk?  Is she hungry?  She must be completely bald.  I love her so much and don’t even know her yet?”  Yet this love did not inspire him to make the train trip to visit her, and when Mileva turned up later to be married, she did not bring Lieserl.  No one knew of this baby’s existence until the letters turned up in 1986. 


What became of the baby?  This remains a mystery, despite the efforts of Michele Zackheim, author of Einstein’s Daughter, a memoir Zackheim’s journey to uncover her whereabouts.  Several theories seem likely.  Lieserl may have been sent to Maric’s close friend, Helene Kaufler Savic, who had lived in the same rooming house in Zurich.  A Viennese Jew, Savic married an engineer from Serbia and Mileva encouraged Einstein to write to her occasionally.  “We must treat her very nicely.  She’ll have to help us in something important, after all.”  (Isaacson, p. 77)  Whether this “adoption” ever took place was impossible for Zackheim to determine, thanks to poorly kept records of births and baptisms complicated by wars destroying the records that were kept.   One theory suggests that Lieserl was a monstrosity and hidden away at Maric’s parents’ farm.  Another that she died at two-years-old, of scarlet fever.  Whatever happened, she seems to have vanished to history. 


So, what to do with this?  If the story frames itself later in the life of the principals, these could be flashbacks.  Or, I can imagine the scene told from Maric’s father’s POV.  The Maric parents had received a hostile letter from Einstein’s mother, as she opposed the marriage.  Imagine receiving a letter  from the mother of your daughter’s fiance, deriding your daughter?  What would become of that letter when your daughter turned up at home, pregnant with a child whose father couldn’t be bothered to come visit?  This would involve researching Maric’s parents—Serbs who were somewhat wealthy by the standard of the day and region—wealthy enough to send their brilliant daughter to college in an era when women were not educated.  Mileva was the only woman in Einstein’s class. 

About Nancy Pinard

Professionally-speaking, Nancy Pinard is an author-educator who spends her days writing, teaching, reading, and researching for her writing and teaching. She is the author of two published novels, Shadow Dancing and Butterfly Soup, and numerous short stories. She has taught the craft of fiction writing in many venues including Sinclair Community College, University of Dayton Life-Long Learning Institute, Antioch Writers' Workshop, Mad Anthony Writers' Workshop, and Molasses Pond Writers' Workshop. Personally, her faith is what sustains, inspires, and motivates her to continue to explore meaning through literature. "You are right in demanding that an artist approach his work consciously, but you are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the correct formulation of a problem. Only the second is required of the artist." — Anton Chekov to Alexei Suvorin, October 27, 1888
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3 Responses to Regarding Lieserl

  1. vivian blevins says:

    Einstein’s disregard for protocol had no impact on his long-term legacy; however, in my decades of college teaching, I’ve observed that those with talent and Einstein-type temperaments are consumed in their own flames and do little or nothing with their lives.

  2. Vickie says:

    How very interesting. And Vivian’s comment, too, gave me pause. Sad, and sadly true.

  3. Nancy: A couple of points:

    Einstein had the highest grade average in the Zurich Polytechnic Intermediate teaching diploma exams in 1898, but neglected his studies in the last two years to concentrate on his own extracurricular studies, resulting in his coming fourth out of the five candidates in 1900. (Mileva came last with a very poor grade in the mathematics component, and was not awarded a diploma.)

    It is somewhat misleading to say Einstein abandoned a student when he moved to Bern. He had a *temporary* post at a small private boarding school, and following a bust-up with the Principal, he left over the Christmas holiday 1901/02.

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