Paul Weyland, the Einstein-Killer from Berlin

by Andreas Kleinert


The following article was first presented as a Sigma Xy Luncheon Lecture at Smith College, Northampton (MA), on December 8, 1992. In October 1993, an extended version in German, with a portrait of Weyland and bibliographical references in more than 140 footnotes, was published as "Paul Weyland, der Berliner Einstein-Töter", in: Albrecht, H. (ed.): Naturwissenschaft und Technik in der Geschichte. 25 Jahre Lehrstuhl für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaft und Technik am Historischen Institut der Univer-
sität Stuttgart
. Stuttgart: Verlag für Geschichte der Naturwissenschaften und Technik, 1993, p. 198-232. Meanwhile, many colleagues, especially Einstein scholars, who are not so familiar with German and to whom the Festschrift from Stuttgart is not available, have asked me for a copy of the shorter English version of the Weyland story.

Paul Weyland (1888-1972)

Paul Weyland belongs to a category of individuals who were most pertinently characterized by Stefan Zweig in the introduction to his Sternstunden der Menschheit: "Sometimes, very rarely, a completely unworthy person steps onto the world stage, only to sink as quickly back into nothingness." Weyland was a man who played such a short and infamous role in the history of modern physics.

The title of this paper is part of a quotation from an article in the daily newspaper Berliner Tageblatt of September 24, 1920. The article is about the annual meeting of the "Gesellschaft deutscher Naturforscher und Ärzte" - the Society of German Natural Scientists and Physicians which was taking place in Bad Nauheim. The day before, there had been a violent debate about the theory of relativity in the physics section of that meeting, and in his account of the discussion between Einstein and his opponent Philipp Lenard, the reporter mentioned the man who happened to be standing behind him: "Hinter mir steht Weyland, der Berliner Einstein-Töter" (Behind me stands Weyland, the Einstein-Killer from Berlin).

At that time, Paul Weyland was not an unknown person to the readers of this newspaper. Only a month earlier, his name had appeared several times in the headlines of the Berliner Tageblatt, on the occasion of certain events that had occured in Berlin in August 1920. Einstein had received a lot of public attention when his general theory of relativity had been confirmed by observations made by British astronomers in 1919. As a reaction to this publicity, he became a target of all kinds of attacks by antisemites (because he was Jewish), by right-wing publications (because of his liberal and democratic political beliefs) and also by conservative scientists who were reluctant to accept his physical theories.

In August of that year, Weyland organized a mass meeting against the theory of relativity in the large auditorium of the Berlin Concert Hall, the "Philharmonie". In this meeting, that had been widely advertised in newspapers, Weyland delivered a kind of keynote address where he attacked Einstein, as a newspaper reported, "with heavy artillery". The address consisted mainly of unsubstantial insults against "the clique of his academic supporters" and against the theory of relativity. For Weyland, this theory was nothing more than a hypnotizing of the masses (Massensuggestion), Jewish arrogance, poisoning of German thought, and so on, the product of a spiritually chaotic time that had already produced a number of other repellant ideas. His speech culminated in the statement: "Relativity theory is scientific Dadaism".

This event, which Einstein himself had attended out of curiosity, was widely commented on in the press during the following days. A variety of articles were published in reaction to it, including a short statement by Einstein. It must be mentionned that Weyland had arranged all this business in the name of a Society called "Arbeitsgemeinschaft deutscher Naturforscher zur Erhaltung reiner Wissenschaft e.V." (Association of German Natural Scientists for the Preservation of Pure Science) - a society that Einstein ironically called "Antirelativistische GmbH" (Anti-Relativity Company, Ltd.).

On the basis of printed sources and correspondences between Einstein and his colleagues, the anti-Einstein campaign of 1920 has often been described. More details about it can be found in any given Einstein biography. One will hardly find such a biography where the name of Paul Weyland does not appear.

When I read these accounts in different biographies of Einstein, and in books about the history of modern physics, I was amazed by the fact that not one of the Einstein biographers says more about this strange man, whose activities could have had disastrous consequences for German science. (As a response to Weyland's activities, Einstein seriously considered accepting a position in the Netherlands.) For the historian, there are a lot of questions that remain unexplained - for example: Who was this man, and what was his motivation? There might have been powerful people or organizations that backed him (in German: "Hintermänner") - how could an individual acting on his own initiative rent a big concert hall and organize such a scandalous event? And what about this "Anti-Relativity Company, Ltd.", whose spokesman or secretary or whatever Weyland claimed to be? All these questions have been bypassed by Einstein's biographers and other historians of 20th century physics. Let me give you just one quote from such a book that shows how this problem was tackled by historians (Armin Hermann, The New Physics, p. 54):

Who was this Paul Weyland who treated the creator of relativity theory with such scorn? He seems "certainly to be no specialist", noted Einstein. "Physician? Politician? Engineer? I couldn't tell." [This is from Einstein's statement in reaction to Weyland's talk in the Concert Hall] What failed Einstein and the Berlin physicists at that time, has failed biographers of Einstein ever since.

It would be another story to tell how and where I found more information about Paul Weyland. It turned out that he has left long traces in different archives, and at the end of my investigation, I even found some of his private papers, including his passport and his social security card, and so I learned that he died as an American citizen.

I will now skip the story of my discoveries and just give a brief summary of what I discovered. My sources are not all reliable to the same degree - especially Weyland's own declarations about himself are often more than questionable.

Paul Weyland was born in Berlin on August 20, 1888, as the son of a bookkeeper ("Buchhalter"). He later claimed that he had attended a prestigious highschool, the humanistic Leibniz-Gymnasium. I don't know whether this is true. He certainly did not graduate from this school - maybe he left it without a final degree. Apparently his education was fairly good. He could express himself in a sophisticated style in German, and he was fluent in English, French and Spanish. After school, he must have acquired some knowledge in science and technology. In the twenties, he was listed as an engineer in the address directory of Berlin. After the second world war, he pretended that he had studied chemistry, and in 1953, when he lived in the United States, he described his former professional activities like this: "[In the twenties] I did occasional work as an analyst of blood and chemicals."

In World War I, he served as a soldier between 1915 and 1917. In 1919 he made his appearence as a novelist: He published a novel of over 230 pages with the curious title Hie Kreuz - hie Triglaff (The Cross against the Triglaff, the Triglaff being the symbol of the pagan Slavic tribes that settled east of the river Elbe in the early Middle Ages). This chauvinistic story about historical events of the tenth century A.D. ends with an open allusion to the present, where he puts his novel in relation to the conflicts between Germans and Poles in Upper Silesia. Another book by Weyland was advertised, but never appeared - its title was Der Tanz als kulturelles Ausdrucksmittel (Dancing as an expression of culture), with a chapter on modern dance as a sign of cultural decline. As we already know, instead of writing about dancing, Weyland had turned his attention to another symptom of "cultural decline": Einstein's Theory of Relativity.

Concerning the event in the Concert Hall and other activities that were related to science, I discovered that Weyland's "Arbeitsgemeinschaft" (Association of German scientists for the preservation of pure science) was obviously a phantom that existed only in his advertisements and on the stationery that he used for his letters. No other member of that association has ever been known, and although Weyland called it a registered association ("eingetragener Verein"), there is no trace of this association in any register in Berlin. Although even a Berlin newspaper wrote in 1920 that nothing was known about the members of that association, it is up to this day mentioned in secondary literature as an institution that had really existed and combated relativity.

One year after the Einstein affair, in 1921, Weyland became a political activist. On the cover of the second edition of his novel, he claimed to be a voluntary fighter in Upper Silesia, but nobody knows if he really did; it might also have been a simple measure of publicity for his book which now had the new subtitle: Eine Erzählung aus der Zeit der Polenkämpfe (A novel from the time of the Polish wars).

Anyway, in the same year 1921, after the German-Polish conflict had been settled, Weyland chose another target for his nationalistic attacks: the Jews. He became the editor of an openly antisemitic monthly journal, with the title Deutsch-völkische Monatshefte. I will not bother you with quotations from this unpleasant publication: it was an anticipation in words and in disgusting pictures of what would happen in Germany 15 or 20 years later during the Third Reich. Concerning science, his aim was "Judenreinheit der deutschen Wissenschaft" (to clean German science from the Jews).

In the fall of 1921 Weyland began traveling to foreign countries. His first destination was New York City, where he arrived on October 31. The only trace he has left there is a proof of how clever he was as an impostor and swindler. He managed to be interviewed by a journalist of the New York Times, and in an article in the issue of January 2, 1922, the American reader is informed about the visit of "Dr. Paul Weyland, President of the Association of German Natural Scientists" - that was Weyland's one-man anti-relativity association! In the article, Weyland claims that German chemists had invented a method of producing motor fuel from water and calcium carbide, and that this invention would revolutionize the German automobile industry. Of course the outstanding visitor was also asked about politics, and the article concludes with the statement: "[In Germany] the mass of people favor a monarchical form of government, said Dr. Weyland, when questioned regarding the attitude of the people toward the present government."

In the following years, Weyland's name entered into the records of the German Foreign Office. He travelled to different countries, and wherever he showed up, he gave trouble to the German diplomatic representatives. Most of this trouble was about money.

In April 1922, he planned a trip to Norway - he called it a private scientific expedition. In order to finance this expedition, he wrote a letter to the German Consul in Hammerfest (near the Arctic circle) telling him he wanted to perform spectroscopic observations of the polar lights and asking him what time of the year would be best for this. Then he came to his major concern: whether the consulate could make arrangements for him not to pay for his housing expenses. He pretended he would have to pay a security deposit of some 100 000 marks in order to take his scientific instruments out of Germany. So his financial resources would be exhausted when he came to Norway, but he would pay his debts after his return to Germany, when he got his security money back. Apparently he had counted on the naivety of the consul who was normally a Norwegian citizen, but unfortunately for Weyland, the German Consulate in Hammerfest was not occupied at that time, and his letter was forwarded to the German embassy in Kristiania [Oslo].

The ambassador informed the Foreign Office which was of course extremely upset about Weyland's behavior and declined any support for him. Thus, nobody helped him with arrangements for free housing near the Arctic Circle, and his so-called scientific expedition was never realized.

One year later, in April 1923, Weyland actually went to Scandinavia; his destination was Sweden. At that time, Einstein was expected in Stockholm in order give his Nobel lecture; he had been awarded the Nobel Prize in physics the year before. Some Swedish newspapers had heard about Weyland's arrival, and they expressed concerns that Weyland might have come to Stockholm with the intention of disturbing the ceremony. Consequently, the German embassy made inquiries about Weyland, and it turned out that he had contacted Swedish bankers and businessmen, claiming that he had found a new insecticide, and that he was looking for financially strong associates who would help him to commercialize his invention. Again, the German Foreign Office warned everybody not to cooperate with this well known troublemaker.

A few months later, Weyland entered into the records of the German consulate in Zurich, Switzerland. He had refused to pay a hotel bill, arguing that he expected a huge inheritance from the USA. But the hotel owner did not agree to wait so long, and finally the German consulate in Zurich payed the bill in order to avoid legal proceedings against a German citizen. When asked what he was doing in Zurich, Weyland pretended that he was performing scientific research in the Swiss Central Library.

I skip the traces he left in public records during the late twenties - they give evidence that at least three times he was sued and convicted of fraud, and that he was in Latin America between 1929 and 1932 - doing research about tropical diseases, as he himself pretended. He came back to Germany in the decisive year of 1933.

When during my investigations I arrived at this point in Weyland's biography, I was sure that a man with this history would be the ideal person for a splendid career under the Nazis. Like many members of the militant Nazi organisations SA and SS, he had a criminal background and had been in trouble with the authorities of the democratic government of the Weimar Republic. He had distinguished himself as a militant antisemite, and by his most spectacular action, the anti-Einstein manifestation of 1920, he was qualified as a persecutor of the German scientist who was the predominant target of antisemitic and antiintellectual nazi propaganda in 1933.

Contrary to what one might expect, Weyland had a very hard time under the Nazis, and ended up spending six years as a prisoner in different concentration camps.

In May 1933, he applied for membership in the Nazi party. His application was registered in the party's records, but he was not yet admitted as a party member, because two weeks earlier, the party officials had decreed a general admission stop as a reaction to the rush for membership of hundreds of thousands of opportunists, that had occurred after Hitler's assumption of power. Although Weyland was never formally admitted, his party membership file ends with a remark of 1934 that he had been excluded.

At that time, Weyland had left Germany for a while; already in December 1933, we find him in Palma de Mallorca, Spain. After the war, he pretended that he had left Germany because he was persecuted by the Nazis - but that does not sound not very credible for a man who had just applied for membership in the party, and who tried to join another Nazi organization when he already lived outside the country. In December 1933, he applied for membership in the "Reichsverband deutscher Schriftsteller" - the Association of German Writers, and in his application form, he declared that he agreed unreservedly with the politics of the national socialist government concerning literature, and that he considered himself as a member of the Nazi party. As his profession, he gave "Autodidakt" (self-educated person).

Weyland spent nearly three years in different places in Spain, including Gibraltar and the Spanish cities in North Africa. He supported himself with various fraudulent activities - not paying hotel bills, borrowing money from German consulates and even from Jewish emigrants whom he told he had fled from Germany as an opponent of the Nazis. He sometimes claimed that he was waiting for a big inheritance, or that he had made an important discovery or invention that would make him prosperous when it was commercialized. When finally the German consulates in Spain, North Africa and Gibraltar refused to subsidize him any more, he received support with the help of a woman who accompanied him since his arrival in Spain. This woman, whose name was Käte Pietzsch, told different stories to different German consuls in order to get money from them. Her last story was that she had fallen into distress and wanted to go back to Berlin. When the German consul gave her a ticket for a ship that would take her to Marseille, she immediately sold the ticket to another passenger, and with the money, she and Weyland could survive some more weeks.

During this time, Weyland wrote long letters to the German Ministry of the Interior, criticizing Hitler's authoritarian style of ruling the country and suggesting that the monarchy be reintroduced in Germany.

For understandable reasons, the man became more and more of a burden for the German authorities, and the German representatives in Spain (embassy, consulates) suggested solutions to their problem.

When the Nazis had come to power, they had enacted a new law that made it possible to take away German citizenship from people they wanted to get rid of; this law was mostly applied to political opponents and emigrants. The German embassy in Madrid suggested that Weyland be deprived of his citizenship, but the authorities in Berlin were reluctant to apply this measure against him. They argued that he was not really a political opponent, because he had expressed his opposition to Hitler only in letters to different ministries, but not in public, and crimes like fraud and embezzlement were not considered as justifcation for expatriation. But in 1936, Weyland's case had become so embarrassing that he was finally deprived of his German citizenship. In one of the files about this procedure, I found a document that says that he had already been searched by the police when he left Berlin in 1933, for having commited perjury and embezzled money while he was a SA leader.

Since his German passport was no longer valid, Weyland left Spain in July 1936. Via Paris and Luxemburg he came to Vienna, and he got a job in an Austrian enterprise in Bruxelles. His situation became precarious when Austria was annexed by Germany in 1938. He managed to stay in Belgium one more year, but in March 1939 he had to return to Germany. He was immediately arrested at the border and locked up in the prison of Aachen for three months. Then he was released, but in September 1939, he was arrested again and brought to the concentration camp of Dachau. Later he came to Sachsenhausen, and he was liberated by the American troops in May 1945.

The documents about his time in the concentration camps are controversial, and it would be unfair to enter into speculations about them. Whatever he might have done before - it remains an inexcusable and horrible injustice.

The first thing he did when he was free was to confer upon himself a doctoral degree. This was certainly an imposture, because his name is not listed in any bibliography of doctoral dissertations. But neither German nor American authorities ever checked that, and so he had successfully become a doctor by his own appointment. (In the general mixup after the war, when many people had lost their documents, this was a widespread practice in Germany.) In September 1945, Weyland married his companion from Spain Käte Pietzsch, and in the marriage certificate he was mentioned as "chemist Dr. Paul Weyland".

After his release from the concentration camp, Weyland worked in different positions for the American occupation forces. First, he was an interpreter in a camp for German refugees from Silesia and Pomerania, then he worked in Marburg in a branch office of the Berlin Document Center (which contained all the records of the Nazi party) and in the M.C.C. (Ministerial Collecting Center), and finally he was engaged by the C.I.C. and the C.I.A. In a declaration of 1953, he described his activities in these positions this way: "After my liberation, I worked for the US government CIC against the Communists and the Social Democrats."

Just as before the war, Weyland had a problem that was described in February 1946 in a complaint letter to a Landrat (district president) in these words: "Er benötigt dringend Geldmittel" (He urgently needs money). There is convincing evidence that he tried to solve this problem with dishonest methods similar to those he had used when he lived in North Africa and in Spain: He extorted money from people by threatening them with his true or alleged influence on decisions to be taken by his American employers. In one case, he claimed that it would depend on his advice whether somebody would be arrested; and when the man was arrested, he requested money from the man's wife in order to get him free.

In September 1946, he was charged with defamation and involved in a lawsuit - unfortunately the relevant records had been destroyed a few years before I became interested in the case.

In 1948, Weyland emigrated to the United States of America. He later pretended that he had been offered this opportunity by the American authorities, when he felt oppressed by the Social Democrats who governed the state of Hessen. It may have been like this, or it may have been his own decision - in any case, he had no problem in getting an immigration visa from the American Consulate in Frankfurt and an affidavit by the IRC (International Rescue Committee). On April 10, 1948 Paul and Käthe (now Kate) Weyland arrived in New York.

In June 1953, the Weylands applied for naturalization. In a declaration about his past and his political beliefs, Weyland said he had always been "opposed to any totalitarian or aristocratic form of government, with only hopes and aspirations for a democratic form of government". Nobody cared about his publications from the twenties, where he had defamed the first German democracy as "aus Dreck und Jauche geborene Republik" (Republic born from filth and liquid manure) - not to mention his antisemitic pamphlets.

How did the Weylands survive in the USA? Supported by the IRC, they attended courses in the "Webster Evening School" in Washington, D.C until January 1949. After that, Weyland worked as "Laboratory technician" in different hospitals; his last position was that of a "warehouse helper" in a department store, were Kate Weyland was employed as a saleswoman. Typically enough, as soon as he was hired by a hospital, he used printed stationery with the hospital's address and his name as "Dr. Paul Weyland", but he asked his correspondents not to send their answers to the hospital, but to General Delivery.

In May 1952, the Weylands retired and moved to Florida; their monthly pension was between $ 100 and $ 140.

In September 1953, when his naturalization procedure was still pending, Weyland discovered a possibilty to demonstrate his patriotism for his new country by participating in the persecution of hidden communists. Taking advantage of the opportunities of the McCarthy era, he turned his attention to an old enemy: Albert Einstein. In a report to the FBI, he presented his view of the events of 1920. Here is a quote from the FBI record refering to Weyland's declarations:

Einstein started meetings in Berlin university and embarked upon philosophical discussions. As a result of these discussions, Weyland claims he told Einstein that he was not a scientist or a philosopher, but was a politician and would bring the German people to anarchism and communism. In replying, Weyland claims, Einstein attacked him through the editorial column of the Berliner Tageblatt, and in an article that appeared sometime between August 20 and 25, Einstein made a statement that he had been accused of being a communist. Einstein continued that he admitted that he was a communist. Weyland also asserted that in the late twenties, the Einstein home had been a communist center and clearing house, and a hiding place of Soviet agents.

On the basis of Weyland's denunciation, J. Edgar Hoover personally ordered an investigation of the physicist, and the FBI created a 1500 page file on Einstein, spending thousands of tax dollars. Einstein probably never heard about this accusation that remainded entirely unsubstantiated. On January 11, 1954 Paul and Kate Weyland became citizens of the United States.

I have to cut short the last chapter of Weyland's biography. On August 26, 1967 the couple returned to Germany. The reason for this were their problems with the American Health Care system. Weyland suffered from circulatory disturbances and other diseases, and with his small income he could not pay the expenses for medical treatment. His last years were overshadowed by permanent arguments with the social services in Germany. He wrote many long letters to the Minister of the Interior of the State of Hessen, and twelve times within four years, he recieved financial support for all kinds of medical expenses.

The ghost of Einstein haunted him until the end of his life. In August 1970, my academic teacher and PhD supervisor Armin Hermann gave a lecture about Albert Einstein on the German radio, where he mentioned the events that had happened in Berlin 50 years ago. One of his listeners was Paul Weyland, who complained bitterly in a letter to the Interior Minister of Hessen that he had been publicly insulted in a vulgar and crude manner ("in geradezu pöbelhafter Weise") for the scientific beliefs he had expressed in the past.

Paul Weyland died of heart disease on December 6, 1972 in Bad Pyrmont.