On this day in 1914 in Germany, a small group of intellectuals led by the physician Georg Nicolai launch Bund Neues Vaterland, the New Fatherland League.
One of the league’s most active supporters was Nicolai’s friend, the great physicist Albert Einstein. Together, Einstein and Nicolai had written a pacifist answer to the famous pro-war manifesto of October 1914, which had been signed by 93 leading German intellectuals from various fields, including the physicist Max Planck, the painter Max Lieberman and the poet Gerhart Hauptmann. When their counter-manifesto failed to attract much support, Nicolai and Einstein concentrated their efforts into the New Fatherland League.
First and foremost, the league argued, World War I, which had begun the previous August, should end promptly in favor of “a just peace without annexations.” Secondly, an international organization should be established in order to prevent future wars. According to Dr. Franziska Baumgartner-Tramer, who attended some of the league’s meetings, Einstein spoke “with great pessimism about the future of human relations….I managed to get to him on one occasion, when I was depressed by the news of one German victory after another and the resultant intolerable arrogance and gloating of the people of Berlin. ‘What will happen, Herr Professor?’ I asked anxiously. Einstein looked at me, raised his right fist, and replied ‘This will govern!'”
In July 1915, the New Fatherland League supported another declaration, signed by 91 prominent German intellectuals, opposing territorial annexations and calling for a compromise peace. This proved too much for German authorities, who raided the league’s offices and prohibited its members from publishing any other documents or from even associating with each other. In the post-war years, however, the league resurfaced, and in 1922 it was renamed the German League for Human Rights, after a similar French organization dedicated to fostering German-French understanding.
Meanwhile, frustrated by the League of Nations’ failure to enforce disarmament and prevent further international conflicts in the decades following World War I, Albert Einstein became one of the world’s most powerful voices in support of pacifism. He was also committed to Zionism, the political movement aimed at creating a Jewish homeland in Palestine. When the state of Israel was created after World War II, its prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, offered Einstein the post of president. The great man declined, but remained deeply involved with Israel and with Jewish affairs until the end of his life.