Long Island, New York
August 2, 1939
The letter was trimmed down to four pages, dictated in German and translated to English, edited and stripped off the lengthy details but with enough information to convey the importance of the discovery and the urgency of the situation. All he had to do now was sign it.
He had been deliberating this for several days since his erstwhile pupil and old friend paid him a visit to his holiday home, urging him to write about the opportunity that was now available, given the precarious situation the world was in. With a mad man on a rampage across the Atlantic, there was not a moment to lose.
He had been hesitant about the project at first. He was a pacifist, after all. This was an uncharted territory, and would take the war to an unthinkable level.
“But Professor,” his pupil had argued, “If we don’t act now, the Germans will. And you know what can happen if they lay their hands on the technology first.”
He needed no reminder of the inhuman acts the mad man in Berlin was capable of. As he peered over across the Atlantic, his mind raced much farther beyond what his eyes could see, four thousand miles away to what was his once homeland and which now lay at the mercy of a dictator. He thought of the plight of the millions he had left behind.
Scientists in Nazi Germany were already believed to be working on nuclear technology. Germany had stopped the sale of uranium from Czechoslovakia, which had become its colony and was one of the largest producers of uranium. He knew that setting up a nuclear chain reaction with such a large mass of uranium could trigger power capable of an unimaginable destruction.
He shuddered to think what would happen if Germany managed to develop nuclear weapons first, and what would happen if such a weapon were dropped in London, Paris, or even here, in New York. It sent a chill up his spine. Adolf Hitler had to be stopped.
War clouds were hovering over all parts of the world. Europe was at the centre of the storm, but it wouldn’t take long for it to snowball into something much bigger and even reach the American shores.
“Only you can convince the Administration to act on this project, Professor,” his pupil and fellow Nobel Laureate Dr Leo Szilard had pleaded.
Over the next few days, they drafted the necessary details on the technology, on the availability of uranium ore and on the developments in Berlin, and came up with a four page letter requesting for a project to be set up towards research of nuclear fission. As he dictated in German, Dr Szilard transcribed and translated it to English. It had to be hand-delivered, no doubt, for the matter was far too important, and so was the recipient.
The great man’s face appeared more aged than he already was, and he suddenly felt the weight of the world on his shoulders. He had an obligation to world peace. Will the development of such a weapon save the world, or will it hurl it deeper into destruction?
In what he would later regret as the greatest mistake of his life, he once again reviewed the letter addressed to F.D. Roosevelt, President of the United States, and signed over his name, Albert Einstein.