Girl on a Beam of Light

Albert Einstein’s Best Kept Secret

On 27th January 1902, 26 year old Mileva Maric gave birth to her first child at her parents’ house in Novi Sad, a provincial town on the Danube that today is Serbia’s second largest city.

The baby girl was named Lieserl and was cared for by her mother for a few short months before she returned to live in a village near Bern, Switzerland, close to where the baby’s 23 year old father had secured employment at the Patent Office on 23rd June 1902.

Mileva Maric married Lieserl’s father on 6th January 1903 in Bern. Her husband’s name was Albert Einstein.

For Albert and Mileva Einstein, the risk of a scandal having an illegitimate child born out of wedlock was potentially damaging for their aspirations towards careers in the traditional world of science and academia.

For this and other reasons, the couple decided that Lieserl should remain with Mileva’s parents in Novi Sad until such time as they were established in Bern society.

“You can’t blame gravity for falling in love.” Albert Einstein.

Lieserl contracted scarlet fever in the summer of 1903. Mileva returned to Novi Sad to visit her daughter in August that year, at which time she discovered she was pregnant with their second child. Their first son, Hans Albert Einstein, was born on 14th May 1904.

There is considerable speculation that Lieserl Einstein died of the disease in September 1903 at the age of 19 months. Albert Einstein never saw his first born child and there was no mention of her after that time.

Indeed, there was no official record of Lieserl Einstein at all. Her existence was kept secret until decades after Albert Einstein died in 1955. Private letters between Mileva and Albert, discovered by Hans Albert’s daughter Evelyn Einstein in 1986, made reference to Lieserl’s birth and subsequent illness.

Scarlet fever is less of a killer disease today than it was in 1903. The advent of antibiotics has dramatically improved recovery and mortality rates. But even by 1900, experimental treatments were being developed that did reduce mortality rates and prove effective against the disease.

One such serum, taken from the blood of horses, was developed at a laboratory within Rudolph Hospital, Vienna. As Mileva Maric had studied medicine at the University of Zurich in 1896, it is conceivable that she would have known about the serum which could have saved her daughter’s life.

If, as some biographers have speculated, Lieserl Einstein did survive beyond 1903 and was adopted by Mileva Maric’s childhood friend Helene Savic, it is possible that she grew up to have a family of her own – a family with the genius of the Einstein bloodline.

Mileva Einstein was an exceptionally gifted science student. She was admitted to the all-male Royal Classical High School in Zagreb at the age of 16, was granted a place in the physics class two years later and passed the final exams with the highest recorded grades in mathematics and physics.

She switched from studying medicine at the University to Physics at Zurich Polytechnic later in 1896 where she met Albert Einstein, another student on the diploma course, training to teach physics and mathematics at secondary schools. She was the only female in her class.

After she became close friends with her future husband, Mileva struggled to complete her academic qualifications. She re-took her diploma examination when she was 3 months pregnant but failed for a second time without any improvement in her grades. Shortly afterwards she abandoned her dissertation and any further studies towards a PhD.

As Albert’s career blossomed following the publication of his revolutionary new theories in 1905 and beyond, Mileva’s career diminished, along with her self-confidence. She bore him 3 children before they separated in 1914. They finally divorced in February 1919. Mileva died in Zurich in 1948.

Mileva’s contribution towards Einstein’s early work has been the subject of fierce debate for many years. Was she really the guiding hand behind the Theory of General Relativity or his work in quantum physics? Did she help him imagine riding a beam of light or sitting in the streetcar riding away from Bern’s famous clock tower?

Albert Einstein was awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 and received the considerable prizemoney of 121,572 Swedish Kroner. He had agreed two years earlier as a condition of their divorce settlement that all the Nobel prizemoney would go to his ex-wife. She returned to Zurich with their two boys, bought three houses in the town with the prizemoney and lived there until her death at the age of 72 in 1948. She never re-married.

Given the extraordinary times that Mileva Einstein experienced; given that her spirit and resolve could be reborn in the modern age where female scientists have more opportunity to realise their true potential; given that her one and only daughter – the progeny of arguably the most remarkable scientific minds in recent history – lived on to produce “Einstein’s” of her own:  the stage would be set for a truly fascinating story of scientific discovery.

That story is told in A Litany of Good Intentions, the latest thriller with a social conscience by crime fiction novelist, Andrew Harris. The second book in his Human Spirit Trilogy, Litany explores the Einstein legacy and how this could impact on the world today.

It might deal with serious issues but Litany is also a rattling good read. The action takes place in the present day, with references to the Einstein story and major scientific discoveries of the 20th Century.

A Litany of Good Intentions is on sale now in Kindle or Paperback on

Einstein science fiction thriller crime history