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Why genius scientist Einstein fled Hitler to hide in a North Norfolk log cabin

Updated: Jan 22


Albert Einstein seated outside the Norfolk hut with Oliver Locker-Lampson (left) and armed body guard
Albert Einstein seated outside the Norfolk hut with Oliver Locker-Lampson (left) and armed body guard (Photo: Archant)

Albert Einstein, widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest physicists of all time, was a refugee who hid under armed guard in a thatched North Norfolk log cabin after fleeing Germany.


Einstein was escaping the Nazi regime in 1933 where he was considered public enemy number one hunted down because he was a Jewish intellectual and overtly anti-Nazi.


A bounty of one thousand guineas (around £70,000 in today's money) had been put on the head of the Nobel prize-winning mathematician and physicist. So, aged 54, he fled his native Germany via Belgium and found safety in a remote hut on Roughton Heath near Cromer on the north Norfolk coast.


Einstein developed the special and general theories of relativity and won the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1921 for his explanation of the photoelectric effect. His theory of relativity revolutionised our understanding of space, time, gravity, and the universe.

Einstein - although best known for developing the theory of relativity - also made important contributions to the development of the theory of quantum mechanics. Relativity and quantum mechanics are together the two pillars of modern physics.


However, in 1933 Germany, Nazi terror was unleashed after Adolf Hitler became Chancellor. Anti-German books were burned and Jews persecuted. Life for scientists and pacifists like Einstein was unbearable. His books were burned alongside those viewed as being subversive or as representing ideologies opposed to Nazism. The Gestapo repeatedly raided his homes, and one German magazine included him in a list of enemies of the German regime with the phrase, "not yet hanged" and offering a bounty on his head.


So when he was offered refuge in England by eccentric Conservative MP and former naval officer, Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson in September 1933 he fled for his life. Locker-Lampson invited him to stay near his Cromer home in a secluded log cabin in nearby Roughton Heath. To protect Einstein, Locker-Lampson - who had met Einstein in the previous year - had two bodyguards watch over him.


A signed photo of Einstein and Locker-Lampson to give to those who helped provide refuge
A signed photo of Einstein and Locker-Lampson given to guards at Roughton (Photo: Stephen Locker-Lampson)

Einstein stayed in Norfolk for only three weeks but it was a stay packed with incident.


He then travelled by boat from Southampton on October 7, 1933, to the United States where he gained asylum and remained until his death aged 76 in 1955. He never returned to Europe.

But while he was being protected in his Roughton hut, 15 miles east of Blakeney, he continued working on his theories and went on to change the course of history by developing the idea for the world's first nuclear bomb.


Conservative MP and barrister, Commander Oliver Locker-Lampson, who represented Ramsey in Cambridgeshire for 12 years and later Handsworth in Birmingham for 23 years, offered the brilliant scientist refuge because he was so appalled at the treatment of Jews in Germany. His family had a large summer home in Cromer but it was considered too dangerous to house Einstein there.


Instead, the famous scientist was given the log cabin on Roughton heath protected by armed guards for his three-week stay. The unofficial guard, armed with shotguns, consisted of a gamekeeper and two women employed by Mr Locker-Lampson.


But life in the hut was not all bad. There were genuine creature comforts and the MP provided his German-born guest with a piano, a violin, and a wind-up gramophone. He also arranged for a butler and a cook to prepare and serve food. A herd of goats was also found to provide the Nobel prize-winning scientist his daily goat’s milk which he preferred to cow’s milk. Einstein went to Mr Locker-Lampson’s home for baths or to use the telephone.


Commander Locker-Lampson, a First World War veteran, who held right wing views, later directed his political ire in the 1930s against fascism both in Britain and in continental Europe.


After helping Albert Einstein escape the Hitler regime, he later worked to help other high-profile victims of fascism, including Haile Selassie, the former emperor of Ethiopia, and Sigmund Freud, the Austrian neurologist and founder of psychoanalysis, as well as numerous ordinary Jewish people. He personally sponsored many Jews to escape Nazi persecution in Germany and Austria. His efforts in saving Jews from Germany have been described as exceptional.


Einstein’s short and surprising visit to Norfolk has inspired both music and literature including a radio play - Einstein in Cromer, by Mark Burgess (2004), a rock song Einstein on the beach by Counting Crows (1994), and it is said Philip Glass’ opera Einstein on the beach (1976) was also inspired by the scientist's stay in Norfolk.


Einstein also made time to pose for artist Jacob Epstein, one of the leading portrait sculptors of the 20th century, who helped pioneer modern sculpture and created a now-famous bust of Einstein.


Einstein with sculptor Jacob Epstein
Einstein with sculptor Jacob Epstein (Photo: Stephen Locker-Lampson)

A book by Norwich-based author Stuart McLaren Saving Einstein. When Norfolk Hid a Genius. The Double Life of Oliver Locker-Lampson was published in 2021 after more than 20 years of research.


The book was inspired by a family tale which suggested one of Stuart McLaren’s relatives had met Albert Einstein in North Norfolk in 1933. The dedicated research proved that the family tale was true. Historian Stuart McLaren has explored the back-story of Einstein’s stay in Norfolk.


Saving Einstein: How Norfolk Hid a Genius - The Double Life of Oliver Locker-Lampson, is published by Poppyland Publishing, price £14.95. It is available from East Anglian publishers poppyland.co.uk, from Jarrold Department Store in Norwich, and on amazon.co.uk


A blue plaque commemorating Einstein's stay in Roughton can be found on The New Inn pub in the village. The actual position of the hut Einstein used remains a mystery.


A manuscript with calculations made by Albert Einstein as he attempted to formulate his great scientific breakthrough the theory of relativity was sold at auction by Christie’s in Paris for £9.7million in November 2021.


Another letter written by Einstein containing his famous equation E = mc2 explaining the interchangeability of energy and mass first published in a scientific paper in 1905 sold at auction in the United States for more than £850,000 in May 2021. Experts say there are only three other known examples of the equation, a fundamental concept in modern physics, in the physicist's handwriting.

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