Eyewitness

September 8, 2000

The Italian parliament is considering whether to launch an inquiry into the murder of three close relatives of Albert Einstein by SS troops at Rignano sull'Arno near Florence on August 3 1944, the day before the British army liberated the area.

It follows a request by Valdo Spini, president of the chamber's defence commission and leader of Italy's leftwing democrats. Mr Spini, who claims that the SS acted on Adolf Hitler's direct orders, has asked for the Italo-Germanic Institute of History in Trento to investigate.

According to eyewitness reports, SS troops in search of Robert Einstein - the paternal cousin and childhood companion of Albert - burst into his home and, on not finding him, brutally murdered his (non-Jewish) wife Cesarina Mazzetti and their daughters Annamaria and Luce. Robert committed suicide a year later.

Mr Spini said that the murder showed Hitler's "aversion towards the great Jewish German scientist who had emigrated to America and had become a symbol of anti-Nazism".

Correspondence between Albert Einstein and Italy's cultural icon Benedetto Croce, said Spini, revealed a common bond against Nazism that infuriated Hitler.

Domenico Settembrini, professor of history of political the-ory at the University of Pisa and author of Fascismo: Contro-rivoluzione Imperfetta (1991), said: "One might ask why Hitler had not previously given orders to kill Robert Einstein... Perhaps (he) had hoped to use him and had ordered his killing only when he felt that this was no longer possible.

"More probably, the SS simply sought him out as a Jew and not as Einstein's cousin: Einstein was not the public figure he was later to become. There need not have been specific orders either from Hitler or from any high official."

Historian Indro Montanelli said: "I very much doubt whether we will ever find out who gave the orders, but I still think it right in principle that efforts such as Spini's should be made. I once talked to Einstein at some length in Princeton and, although we discussed the war, he never spoke of his cousin."

Domenico Pacitti

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