In September 1933, when the world’s most famous scientist, a Jew, was forced to renounce his German citizenship and flee for his life, he knew he would find safe harbor in the democracies of the West. With help from friends in Great Britain, Albert Einstein arrived in England and settled into a country hut in the coastal town of Cromer.
After it was reported that the Nazis had put a hefty price on Einstein’s head, Commander Oliver Lampson, a benefactor, placed an armed guard at the property. Einstein quipped: “I really had no idea my head was worth all that.” Before leaving for the United States, where his arrival was eagerly awaited, Einstein confessed to a reporter: “I could not believe that it was possible that such spontaneous affection could be extended to one who is a wanderer on the face of the earth.”
Such affection for a Jew — regardless of his credentials or circumstances — no longer seems possible in the West. Israel’s war against Hamas, following the terrorist group’s genocidal assault on Israeli civilians, has unleashed an ancient hatred. Historian Paul Johnson once called it “a disease of the mind.” The sickness of antisemitism that has expressed itself in the streets, universities, and capitals — from London to Paris to New York — is another symptom of the crisis of the West. Near the heart of this catastrophe is a staggering ignorance of our history: of the ideals and institutions that built our civilization and made possible achievements in human freedom, equality, and justice unrivaled in the human story.