Part of Einstein’s brain is being exposed as a curiosity in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia next to other circus attractions such as the “grotesquely swollen bowel” of the “Baloon Man”, “The mysterious “Soap Woman” and “a wax cast of a Parisian woman’s head, showing the 10-inch horn that grew from her forehead…”
Biography.com describes Einstein’s last moments ‘”Albert Einstein died on April 18, 1955, at age 76 at the University Medical Center at Princeton. The previous day, while working on a speech to honor Israel’s seventh anniversary, Einstein suffered an abdominal aortic aneurysm. He was taken to the hospital for treatment but refused surgery, believing that he had lived his life and was content to accept his fate. “I want to go when I want,” he stated at the time. “It is tasteless to prolong life artificially. I have done my share, it is time to go. I will do it elegantly.”
After his death, without authorization, the pathologist Thomas Harvey removed Einstein’s brain and his eyes. Brian Burrell’s book “Postcards from the Brain Museum” describes:
“THE BRAIN OF Albert Einstein has acquired a notoriety out of all proportion to its value as an anatomical specimen. It is not part of any collection, it did not motivate a new theory of brain function, nor has anything of scientific value resulted from its study. Instead it has become exactly what Einstein most feared: a pop-culture icon.
The strange journey of Einstein’s brain began on the evening of April 17, 1955, when the seventy-six-year-old physicist was admitted to Princeton Hospital complaining of chest pains. He died early the next morning of a burst aortic aneurysm. As in the cases of Carl Gauss and Walt Whitman, the issue of permission to perform an autopsy is clouded by subsequent testimony. Thomas Harvey, the pathologist on call that evening, would later say, “I just knew we had permission to do an autopsy, and I assumed that we were going to study the brain.” As reporters soon discovered, Harvey did not have permission. Nor did he have a legal right to remove and keep the brain for himself. When the fact came to light a few days later, Harvey managed to solicit a reluctant and retroactive blessing from Einstein’s son, Hans Albert, with the now-familiar stipulation that any investigation would be conducted solely in the interest of science, and that any results would be published in reputable scientific journals. But Einstein’s dignity had already been compromised. He had left behind specific instructions regarding his remains: cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters. Yet not only did Harvey take the brain, he also removed the physicist’s eyeballs and gave them to Henry Abrams, Einstein’s eye doctor. They remain to this day in a safe deposit box in New York City, and are frequently rumored to be poised for the auction block.”
…Harvey took the brain to a Philadelphia hospital, where a technician sectioned it into over two hundred blocks and embedded the pieces in celloidin using a variation of the Economo method…The only time Harvey seems to act responsibly is [after more than 40 years!] when he returns to Princeton and entrusts what remains of Einstein’s brain to the pathologist who holds his old job at the hospital…”
Somehow parts of Einstein’s brain ended up in the Mutter Museum in Philadelphia. Diana Stoneback described in the Morning Call “…One of its newest — and most famous — attractions is the brain of legendary German physicist Albert Einstein, who developed the Theory of General Relativity. Truth be told, the museum just owns pieces of it, 46 to be exact, mounted on a set of microscope slides. But it’s quite a specimen and just one of five sets known to be in existence…
“Some visitors tell us they feel nauseated by what they’ve seen, but that’s OK. It’s how they feel. Others tell us our specimens make them grateful to be born in the 20th century, with its antiseptics, antibiotics and anesthesia. Others say they’ve gotten a greater understanding of what it is to be human.”
…Chang and Eng, twins born in Siam, toured the world and inspired the term “Siamese twins” for conjoined twins. The pair, who married sisters and fathered 21 children, are stars of this category. A plaster death casting of their conjoined torsos is displayed, along with the preserved liver they shared.
The Wind Bag or Balloon Man, who also profited from putting himself on display, had a horribly distended abdomen, which you can see in a hospital photo taken shortly before his death from constipation. On display is his huge and grotesquely swollen bowel — nearly nine feet long and measuring from 10 to 30 inches in circumference. He suffered from a congenital condition which could have been surgically corrected today.
Additional weird wonders: The mysterious “Soap Woman,” whose body turned into a soap-like substance called adipocere or “grave wax”; a wax cast of a Parisian woman’s head, showing the 10-inch horn that grew from her forehead, and an ovarian cyst weighing 70 pounds.
In the believe-it-or-not category: Some 19thcentury physicians “remembered” deceased patients by having their skin turned into leather for binding books and making wallets and leather cases for medical tools!
…Figures are expected to climb even higher as word continues to spread about its offbeat contents. The gift of the Einstein brain slides in 2011 drew journalists from around the world. “I believe we’re the only place where people can see the actual samples,” Dhody says…”
Jewish law does not allow autopsy or cremation it rules that the body is holy, it belongs to God and it is supposed to be buried whole. Because Einstein’s first wife Mileva Maric was not Jewish, Einstein’s children were not Jewish, they did not know that Judaism forbids autopsies.
Hans Albert Einstein, Einstein’s son who authorized the use of his father’s brain for scientific research would not have approved the Mutter Museum’s exposition (which is not scientific research) but he died in 1973 so he cannot demand that the brain parts be returned.
The Israeli government should also campaign for the return of Einstein’s brain. Einstein was one of the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem and was asked to be Israel’s President when Chaim Weizmann died.
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s website describes Albert Einstein’s role in its foundation “Albert Einstein was one of the founders of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. He served on the University’s first Board of Governors and Academic Council. He delivered the University’s inaugural scientific lecture and edited its first collection of scientific papers. His unique relationship to this institution found a lasting expression in the bequest of his literary estate and personal papers to the Hebrew University in his Last Will and Testament.”
David Ben Gurion wanted Einstein to be the next President after Weizmann’s death but Einstein did not accept. The Jewish Virtual Library describes “Chaim Weizmann, Israel’s first president, died on November 9, 1952. The Foreign Ministry was asked to assist in finding candidates and Ambassador to the United States Abba Eban approached Albert Einstein to ask if he would accept the offer to serve as president of Israel. In his letter to the professor, Eban wrote that he was acting at the instructions of Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. He added that acceptance would require relocation to Israel and acceptance of Israeli nationality, but in appreciation of the importance and scope of his work he would be offered freedom to continue his scientific activity. Upon receiving the invitation, Einstein replied in handwriting…
“I am deeply moved by the offer from our State of Israel [to serve as President], and at once saddened and ashamed that I cannot accept it. All my life I have dealt with objective matters, hence I lack both the natural aptitude and the experience to deal properly with people and to exercise official functions. For these reasons alone I should be unsuited to fulfill the duties of that high office, even if advancing age was not making increasing inroads on my strength. I am the more distressed over these circumstances because my relationship to the Jewish people has become my strongest human bond, ever since I became fully aware of our precarious situation among the nations of the world.”
The Israeli government, the Jewish community and all those who admire Einstein should advocate for Einstein’s brain (and eyes) to be buried as required by Jewish law.
Judaism teaches that a soul suffers immensely if the body is not buried properly. Einstein’s soul has been suffering since his death in 1955, it is time for Einstein to be given the peace that he deserves.
Ezequiel Doiny is author of “Obama’s assault on Jerusalem’s Western Wall”