Eulogy to Evelyn Einstein by Robert Schulmann
I first met Evelyn Christmastime 1985. I was looking for correspondence between her paternal grandparents and on a hunch I contacted Evelyn. The friendship that developed from that chance meeting was far more satisfying for me than my eventual rediscovery of the Love Letters between Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić.
I don’t have many anecdotes to tell nor do I remember Evelyn’s many witticisms. I leave that to others who knew her better than I did. What remains crystal clear in my memory of her is a delicious mix of fatalism and free-spirited exuberance. Her telephone conversations with me seemed to mirror this effect: Evelyn would start off in a hoarse, halting voice, somewhat grumpy, but half an hour into the conversation she had hit her stride and was skipping along rhetorically: a deft wisecrack at the expense of one of the insurance companies with which she was wrestling, here; a hearty laugh about some political hypocrite, there: Like Grandfather Albert, she was after all contemptuous of those in authority. Our talks would often end with her request that on my next trip to Switzerland, I buy her beef bouillon cubes from Maggi, a subsidiary of the Swiss food processing giant, Nestlé. I was never able to convince her that the cubes could be bought just as readily in Albany, let alone Berkeley.
I mention the Maggi cubes for another reason. They provide access to a deeper tangle in my friend’s personality. I always had the feeling that her free spirit was hedged in by an almost bittersweet hankering for things Swiss, things that reminded her of the neatness and orderliness of her childhood. This contrasted with Evelyn’s identification with the freewheeling lifestyle in the Bay Area, where she spent a significant part of her youth and adult years. Superficially, the laissez-faire, laid-back culture was a better fit, but this overlooks Evelyn’s attachment to prim and proper Switzerland, personified above all by her mother Frieda, whom she deeply loved. The inherent contradiction condemned her to outsider status in both European and American societies, a status that I think she embraced willingly, even though it caused her much pain. Fitting in was not in Evelyn’s DNA. The price she paid for this was being thought eccentric by many, not necessarily a virtue in our conformist culture. I may be particularly sensitive to this particular aspect of her personality as I worked my own way through similar polarities. Needless to say, this feature of her background provided a real bond between us.
Another aspect, which resonated deeply with me, was her radical free-thinking, a trait which she also shared with grandfather Albert. It definitely ensured her unpopularity with certain members of her family, but she was always more interested in being straightforward than in toeing a line. Her protest fifty years ago of the House Un-American Activities’ Committee’s un-American activities was but a rare public demonstration of that which privately burned within her. She was a staunch supporter of social justice without being dogmatic about it. It was her playful sense of humor that protected her from taking any position or herself too seriously. Imbedded in this natural modesty was a wicked ability to ridicule pomposity in others, often assigning unflattering nicknames to those she felt had taken advantage of her, particularly those who wanted to rub shoulders with her merely because she was an Einstein. This most probably added emphasis to her search for authenticity in others, what in German is called Echtheit, genuineness.
As for all gathered here today, it was a great privilege for me to have known Evelyn. She had a quality of funkiness, which is sadly lacking today. Her opinions, though often unconventional, were well thought-out. She was a quiet drummer who marched to her own beat. Would there were more like her.