It seems fitting, somehow, that the night nurse who stood alone by the deathbed of Albert Einstein did not understand German, and that the scientist's last words were consequently lost to the world. For Einstein, besides being one of history's greatest thinkers, was a figure to revere and love rather than to epitomize in a few phrases in a dictionary of last words, such as the one published recently.
It also seems appropriate that the world did not learn of Einstein's death until seven hours after it had occurred, and that his hospitalization had received no publicity at all. He was not a man to suffer a long, tense illness and then to die dramatically amidst a roomful of relatives and friends. As he himself said, "I have never belonged wholeheartedly to country or state, to my circle of friends, or even to my own family."
Yet Einstein, despite his personal "aloofness," was the most human of men. His kindness and humility, his deep, mystical piety, and his humanitarian political views all indicated that here was a scientist who kept in touch with the people to whom his science was dedicated. And the world realized this. It knew that Einstein, the Universe Maker, was still a warm human being--still the man who could take time to solve a geometry problem for a high school girl.
Whether or not the circumstances of Einstein's death seem particularly fitting, the newspaper descriptions of him as "the man who made the atomic bomb possible" seem grossly inappropriate. To be sure, the Theory of Relativity did provide the theoretical basis for nuclear fission. But if there was anything that Einstein's life-work opposed, it was the bomb. A leader in warning of the weapon's destructive potential, Einstein championed total world disarmament to prevent its further use. He early cited the danger of radiation poisoning, and commented in 1945, when told of the Hiroshima bombing, "the world is not ready for it." Indeed, one wonders whether Einstein would have published his original Relativity paper at all, had he known in 1905 that atomic bombs would result.
But this question is immediately answered by Einstein's famous letter of 1939, in which he urged President Roosevelt to initiate research on a nuclear weapon. Despite his pacifism, the scientist had faith in the fundamental good sense of man to use his discoveries wisely. He believed that in the long run the atomic bomb would be only an incidental by-product of Relativity. And the world, as it mourns Albert Einstein today, can do nothing more worthy than to make sure that his vision becomes a reality.