When you think of Einstein, what comes to mind?
Wiry grey hair, E=MC2, physics, quantum theory?
Before he was the science rock star we knew him to be, he was a 22-year-old scamp, who pushed the boundaries of science, played his violin and fathered a secret daughter with a fellow physics student.
Mileva Maric, who would later be his wife was an older woman from the back waters of the Balkans. Though Pauline Einstein, Albert’s mother warned him not to consort with Mileva; "If she gets a child, you'll be in a pretty mess,", Einstein continued the relationship, and on January 27th, 1902, Einstein and Mileva had a child in secret, back in Mileva’s hometown: Serbia.
Neither Einstein nor Mileva mentioned the baby girl. Lieserl, Einstein’s mysterious daughter, disappeared without a trace.
So what happened to her?
Einstein’s lost, illegitimate child came to light when his letters and papers were published in 1987, and we are still no closer to knowing her exact whereabouts or history. The publications revealed Einstein’s tumultuous personal life: his constant flirting, his harsh divorce from wife Mileva and his estrangement from both sons. But the shadow of Einstein’s missing daughter looms over Einstein, much like the myth of Anastasia and the Romanov family in Russia.
The popular theory is she was given up for adoption in fear that an illegitimate child would have endangered Einstein’s new career as a patent-office examiner in Calvinist Bern.
Image: Einstein and Wife Mileva, Source: Teslasociety
A rivalling theory is that Lieserl was born with a mental disability, potentially down syndrome. During that time, a child with Down syndrome would have been viewed as uneducable, and therefore no orphanage would take her nor would anyone adopt her. According to Michele Zackheim, an amateur scholar, the child was left with Mileva’s parents in rural Serbia, where she died young after a bout of scarlet fever.
The theory, however, is based on only one cryptic line from Mileva’s and Einstein's letter exchange in 1903:
"I am very sorry about what has happened to Lieserl. Scarlet fever often leaves some lasting trace behind."
Einstein re-figured how we view the universe. That he made mistakes, is not only interesting in a trivial, tabloid sort of way, but a reassurance as well.
Even geniuses like Einstein were human like us.
Watch GENIUS on Monday the 24th of April at 8.30pm on National Geographic.