Einstein’s Forgotten Child
In January 1902, a year before their marriage, Albert Einstein and Mileva Marić had their first of three children - a daughter that they named Lieserl (the German form of Elizabeth.) Lieserl was kept a secret, in fact, neither Einstein nor Marić are recorded to ever have told anyone about the illegitimate child - except each other. Lieserl’s existence was unknown to the public until a collection of letters between the two was discovered in 1986.
The couple’s last mention of Lieserl occurs on September 19th, 1903 - in which the couple discuss the child’s scarlet fever. The fate of the child is completely unknown, but there are three major contemporary theories:
- Lieserl died from scarlet fever sometime in 1903, and was buried and never again mentioned. A grave has never been found.
- The birth had complications, and Lieserl was born mentally handicapped. A common practice of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during that time was effectively a ‘mercy-killing,’ the act of killing a mentally challenged infant in order to prevent them from a life of misery. The act was technically illegal, but was not looked down upon by society - and punishments were very lenient. Einstein never saw his daughter, so he would not have done the killing - it was most likely Milos Marić, Mileva’s father.
- Marić’s close friend, Helene Savić, could have adopted Lieserl and cared for her. In fact, Savić did raise a child who she named Zorka Savić, who lived with her and the Savić family until her death in the 1990s. It is well documented that Zorka was blind - something that could have been caused by scarlet fever or the resulting acute rheumatic fever. After biographers discovered the letters in 1986 revealing Lieserl’s existence, Savić’s family refused to allow Zorka to give any interviews on the matter. This theory seems to be the most plausible, given the existence of Zorka - and the fact that Savić frequently watched the other two Einstein children during numerous periods of time.
It is impossible to know which is the true theory - because no papers have ever been found that confirm what happened to her; there is no death certificate, no adoption papers, nothing. Marić and Einstein would later go on to have two more children, both boys - Hans Albert and Eduard. Hans Albert would later become a successful engineer, but Eduard would developed mental issues, including schizophrenia - and lived in and out of mental institutions for the rest of his life.