When paying a visit to the pretty seaside town of De Haan/ Coq sur Mer, head for Normandylaan. There you will come across a bench with a life-sized bronze statue of Albert Einstein (1879-1955). Number 3, Villa Savoyarde in Shakespearelaan was home to the physicist and his wife from April to September 1933.
Einstein was working at Berlin University in 1933. When Hitler came to power early that year the physicist had just arrived in New York to give a lecture on his theory of relativity. At the end of March, he arrived in Antwerp with his wife Elsa on the SS Belgenland, owned by the shipping company Red Star Line. Einstein was not only in trouble due to his Jewish background but also, as an avowed pacifist, due to his criticism of the regime. He was advised by his many contacts not to go back to Germany.
Professor Arthur De Groodt from Ghent University and his wife offered temporary shelter to the couple in Mortsel near Antwerp. De Groodt then offered his seaside villa to the family. By this time, Einstein had already given up his German citizenship, resigned from Berlin University and had decided to move to the USA where he had been offered a position as a lecturer at Princeton University. After a short stay in the UK, he returned to the States where he remained until his death.
But De Groodt was not the only one to befriend Einstein. The Belgian Queen Elisabeth had met him in the early 1920s at the Solvay conferences in Brussels. They became close friends resulting in many letters and visits. Einstein and the Belgian queen also shared a passionate love of music.
During the German occupation of Belgium from 1940 to 1944, Elisabeth used her influence as Queen and her German connections to assist in the rescue of hundreds of Jewish children from deportation. After the war, she was named as a Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government.
For more information on the Red Star Line and if planning a visit to the museum, checkout www.redstarline.be.
There is a guided walk on Einstein around De Haan. A pamphlet with details, available in four languages, can be obtained from the town's tourist office.
- by Ann Englander