Niklaus Bütikofer, archivist of the University of Bern, is familiar with the alleged historical document that has been spreading for a few weeks on the internet platforms Facebook and Twitter. He clarifies: "The document is a relatively crude forgery. Not much effort was put into the research." The archivist lists some errors that the author or authors of the forged letter have made:
- At the indicated date, the Faculty of Philosophy and History and the Faculty of Philosophy and Natural Sciences had not been separated yet.
- There has never been a dean – and not even a lecturer – named Wilhelm Heinrich at the University of Bern.
- The language of correspondence between Einstein who was a German native naturalised in 1901, and the university, if true, would have been in German and not in English. Bütikofer suspects that the forger obviously cannot speak any German.
- The stamp next to the signature of «Dean Heinrich» has no relationship whatsoever with the University of Bern. It seems to rather show the coat of arms of Hungary.
- The Sidlerstrasse listed in the forged letter has only existed since 1931. Before this, it was called Sternwartsstrasse, and today’s post code system also did not exist at the time.
The true story
But was the habilitation of the physicist who was living in Bern at the time initially not really rejected? This is indeed the case, not however due to scientific differences, but due to a formal deficiency. The preserved – and incidentally – handwritten correspondence that Niklaus Bütikofer found in the cantonal state archive, where the university archive files are stored, tells the following story:
On 17. June 1907, Albert Einstein submitted his application for a habilitation in Theoretical Physics to the Director for Education of the canton of Bern. The application was forwarded to the Faculty of Philosophy of the University of Bern where the members of the faculty discussed and rejected it in the sitting of 28 October 1907 – because he hadn’t submitted a habilitation thesis and not because his theories had been rejected. On the contrary: even then Einstein enjoyed a strong reputation amongst his colleagues in the field, as Paul Gruner’s application proves, Professor for Theoretical and Mathematical Physics. Because of its "major scientific accomplishments", he wanted to have Einstein habilitated, despite the lack of a thesis.