My current hometown, Colorado Springs, once was home to a third degree cousin of Albert Einstein. Dr. Otto Einstein was born in Hechingen, Germany in 1876, graduated from high school in Ulm in 1895, and from medical school in Tübingen in 1900. He practiced pediatrics in Stuttgart for thirty-five years, before he escaped Hitler’s anti-Semitic genocide at the last minute, in April 1939. Most of his children left Germany in the early 1930s, but Dr. Einstein opted to stay, caring for his Jewish patients as long as possible. Like other Jewish physicians, he had volunteered during WWI, and as late as 1935 was awarded a Medal of Honor, which likely conferred a degree of protection, even though he was demoted to Krankenpfleger (male nurse) and expelled from the German Society of Pediatricians in 1938.
After fleeing from the dinner table with his wife Jenny and their youngest son, the Einsteins’ first refuge was Nicaragua. He worked at a missionary hospital of the Moravian church for nine months, while awaiting a visa to enter the United States. Albert Einstein pleaded with the authorities in a handwritten note for permission for his cousin to enter the country. Once granted, the Einsteins arrived in New Orleans by steamship in 1940. They lived in Denver for two years, where Dr. Einstein’s eldest son was a doctor. Otto found employment as a resident physician at National Jewish Hospital, a center for the treatment of tuberculosis. Colorado was among the premiere destinations for consumptives, on account of its purported beneficial climate, and Dr. Einstein started a new career as a tuberculosis specialist at sixty-four – an age when most individuals at least ponder retirement.
In 1942, Dr. Einstein moved to Colorado Springs and was hired by the Modern Woodmen of America Sanatorium, the city’s largest. After 1947, he dedicated the remaining years of his life to the care of patients at Cragmor Sanatorium. This establishment for well-heeled patients opened in 1905/06. In 1952, it was leased by the federal Bureau of Indian Affairs as a treatment center for Navajo (Diné) women from Arizona, with the goal to cure their disease with newly discovered antibiotics. Patients and staff described him as a caring, gentle individual who tried to ease his charges’ physical and emotional pain. Despite communication barriers created by his heavily accented English, he and his American Indian patients were able to comprehend one another.
A principled man, Dr. Einstein insisted on paying for medications taken from the pharmacy for personal use, and on tearing up uncanceled stamps. A lifelong scholar, he studied subjects as diverse as medicine and comparative religion. He worshiped at Temple Beth El, the Reform Jewish congregation in Colorado Springs. It was there that he eulogized Albert’s life after the Nobel Laureate’s death in 1955. Five years earlier, the Colorado Springs Gazette Telegraph had printed an interview in which he reminisced about their childhood friendship in Germany and several stays at Princeton with the famous physicist and his wife Elsa, who also happened to be a cousin of Jenny. After Dr. Einstein’s death of myocardial infarction in 1959, a few days shy of his 83rd birthday, he was buried at the Sons of Israel Cemetery, adjacent to Evergreen Cemetery.
Dr. Einstein was survived by his wife Jenny, their two sons, Robert and Georg, two daughters, Lisa and Eva, and a son, Hans, from Jenny’s first marriage. While all have passed in the interim, numerous grandchildren and their offspring are alive today.
I first learned about Dr. Einstein in a book about Cragmor Sanatorium, Asylum of the Gilded Pill, by retired UCCS Professor Douglas R. McKay. During an exploration of our local cemeteries, I stumbled across Dr. Einstein’s distinctive gravestone which heightened my curiosity. When I found the eulogy given by his rabbi, I called several synagogues to find more information about him. One obliging secretary put me in touch with Dr. Perry Bach who is working on the completion of a series of books, Jewish Colorado Springs. He was most gracious, shared his knowledge, and put me in touch with a family member of Dr. Einstein, architect Alan Gass of Denver, the designer of the tombstone, who filled in additional gaps. While visiting Stuttgart last fall, I discovered more archival sources about Dr. Einstein’s life in Germany.
This short biographical sketch is my attempt to shed a little more light on a remarkable person whose full life is too little known.
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