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A Look at Tesla's Humanitarian Beliefs and Prejudices


    Tesla's life (1856-1943) covered a period when the Jewish people in Europe made great strides toward equal rights and continued up to the Nazi holocaust. He spent his early formative years as a Serbian in Croatia, in the towns of Smiljan and Gospić, later moving to Karlovac in Croatia-Slovenia. The Jewish population in these areas was sparse (869 in 1879)1. During this period, Serbia and Croatia vacillated between periods of increasing and restricting the freedoms of its Jewish population, not granting full rights until 18891 in Serbia and 1873 in Croatia2.

    Tesla's father was a Serbian Orthodox minister. In declining to enter the ministry, Tesla told his father, "It is not humans that I love, but humanity3." In terms of his own faith, Tesla went on to describe both strong Christian and Buddhist influences in his life4. His description of belief fell more into the concept of "higher power." "We all must have an ideal to govern our conduct and insure contentment, but it is immaterial whether it be one of creed, art, science or anything else, so long as it fulfills the function of a dematerializing force5."

    Tesla began attending the Polytechnic Institute in Graz, Austria-Hungary in 1875. In 1867 Austria had liberalized its laws allowing full and equal citizenship to Jews. Graz, at that time, was a moderate-sized city, a couple of hours by train from Vienna. In contrast to Vienna, the Jewish population of Graz was small, about 2506.

    He followed this up with yearlong stays in Prague, Budapest and Paris before leaving for America in spring of 1884.

    In summary, Tesla's early years were in provincial towns with a sparse Jewish population living under anti-Semitic laws. These were followed in his twenties by cosmopolitan and intellectual world capitals and an era of legal equality for Jewish people.

Tesla's statements

    Now, let's get this out of the way. A statement has been attributed to Tesla, on wikiquotes and at the hate site, Stormfront. It goes thusly: (To his secretary:) "Never trust a Jew7." Two different origins are given to the quote, both spurious. When presenters of such a quote have two opportunities to provide the source and both are false, it is a sign that this was created out of some anti-Semite's fantasy. There is no question but that, among anti-Semites, Tesla is viewed as an "Aryan" genius. Some sites go as far as to continue to support Tesla's wild theories regarding ether and gravity over Einstein's theory of relativity. Tesla was a genius but never possessed a fundamental understanding of the atom. Tesla's ongoing feud with Einstein is worthy of its own lengthy discussion but never presented itself as anti-Semitic in nature.

    Some of the biographers of Tesla broach the subject of anti-Semitism, although I've only encountered one direct example. In a letter to the society dame, Katharine Johnson, dated November 3, 1898 Tesla agreed to a get-together, going on to bemoan: "...a day of plebeians—drummers, grocerymen, Jews and other social trilobites...8"

    Here we get to an unpleasant feature of Nikola Tesla: he was a snob and could be insulting and dismissive of those he deemed lesser—and he considered most everyone lesser. On top of this, was he anti-Semitic? Several interpretations of the above are possible, none favorable. One is that he was playing up to Ms. Johnson by echoing her prejudices. Another is that he lumped all Jews into the class of "social trilobites." A final interpretation is that he was referring to what he considered to be the unpleasant lower classes and counted Jews among them. Or, to rephrase this, he was anti-Semitic as much as he was anti-groceryman.

Eugenics and World War Two

    Beginning in 1929, Tesla began a friendship with George Sylvester Viereck. Viereck was a playboy, poet, vampire novelist, journalist, Germanophile and, in the 1930s, a Nazi spokesman and propagandist. He was sent to prison in 1942 for being a Nazi agent. In part Viereck's association with Tesla stemmed from the way Viereck clung to the famous, maintaining correspondences and associations with such diverse people as Adolf Hitler, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein9.

    In 1935 Viereck penned an article "A Machine to End War10," presented in Liberty Magazine, in which he related the 78-year-old Tesla's views on the future, what life would be like in the years 2035 and 2100. As part of this, Tesla extolled the use of eugenics. The overall style of the article is rambling, jumping from topic to topic with eugenics getting a single paragraph. The subject is introduced with a sudden shift of tone. "Today Buddhism and Christianity are the greatest religions both in number of disciples and in importance. I believe that the essence of both will be the religion of the human race in the twenty-first century. The year 2100 will see eugenics universally established." The next paragraph goes on to state: "The only method compatible with our notions of civilization and the race is to prevent the breeding of the unfit by sterilization and the deliberate guidance of the mating instinct. [snip] The trend of opinion among eugenists is that we must make marriage more difficult. Certainly no one who is not a desirable parent should be permitted to produce progeny."

    The article is titled as "by Nikola Tesla as told to George Sylvester Viereck10." Could it have been that the notorious propagandist Viereck put words in Tesla's mouth? If he did, there is no evidence of Tesla objecting.

    A variety of indirect arguments can be made in favor of the argument that Tesla was not anti-Semitic. One is the lack of other damnable quotes from a man who was in the public eye and on the public record for decades. Tesla was a man who was not shy to call his aunts ugly or his secretary fat. Furthermore, in the abovementioned article supporting eugenics, Tesla did not specify any race or creed as specifically being among the "unfit" who should not be allowed to have progeny. In that article he goes on to say, "...all the great religions contain wise prescriptions relating to the conduct of life, which hold good now as they did when they were promulgated10."

    Like many Serbians, Tesla favored those rulers of his homeland who were anti-Hitler and anti-fascist, in particular King Alexander I and King Peter II. As a brief background, in 1918, the treaty of Versailles created the Kingdom of Serbs, Croats and Slovenes. In 1929, King Alexander I assumed power and renamed the country, Yugoslavia. Alexander opposed the actions of the rising powers of Italy, Germany and the Soviet Union. He was killed by Croatian fascists in 1934. At the time of this assassination, Tesla wrote to the New York Times describing King Alexander as "both the Washington and Lincoln of the Yugoslavs11." His son, King Peter II, was the official heir to the throne but only eleven years old so in the interim Prince Paul, head of the regency council, held sway. This continued until March 25, 1941 when Prince Paul signed a treaty supporting Hitler and offering his countrymen as soldiers for military service. Two days later, Prince Paul was thrown out in a coup and replaced by the then 17 year old, King Peter II.

    Tesla's homeland paid dearly for standing up to the fascists. Beginning April 6th, the Luftwaffe attacked Belgrade killing 25,000 civilians. After eleven days, Yugoslavia fell and 300,000 soldiers were taken prisoner. In attacking Yugoslavia, Hitler postponed Operation Barbarossa, the invasion of Russia. This delay may have helped prevent Germany from achieving victory before the onset of the Russian winter. Yugoslavia was a sacrificial lamb.

    In the coming years, hundreds of thousands of Slavs would lose their lives to the Nazis.


Jewish Virtual History Tour - Croatia.
Accessed July 23, 2013.

Jewish Virtual History Tour - Serbia.  http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html
Accessed July 22, 2013.

3. As quoted in Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Biography of a Genius, page 13. Marc Seifer, Citadel Press Book, 1998.

4. Tesla attended lectures on Buddhism given by Swami Vivekanda in 1895. Tesla went on to proffer the book On Buddhism to Katharine Johnson. Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Biography of a Genius, p. 161, p. 201.

5. My Inventions, The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, compiled by Ben Johnston, Experimenter Publishing Company, Inc., copyright 1919.

6. Jews and anti-Semitism in Graz: A Tragic Tale of Abuse and Expulsion
Christopher Luschin, http://germslav.byu.edu/perspectives/2006/Luschin_Christoph.pdf
Accessed July 22, 2013.

7. Wikiquotes allows for crowd-sourced editing which is sometimes abused. The quote wherein Tesla says, "Never trust a Jew" has these comments attached on the wikiquotes talk page."The antecedent for this "ibid" was not obvious. The quote followed a quote from the address at the belgrade station, which i seriously doubt was 165 pages long." http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Talk:Nikola_Tesla, accessed July 23, 2013.
The quote was removed and then restored, attributed to: Tesla: A Man Out of Time. Margaret Cheney, copyright 1998, page 165. No such quote appears on that page or anywhere in the book. The trilobite quote does appear on that page.

8. Tesla: A Man Out of Time. Margaret Cheney, copyright 1981, page 165.

9. George Sylvester Viereck: Poet and Propagandist, Neil M. Johnson. Copyright University of Iowa. http://www.lib.uiowa.edu/spec-coll/bai/johnson2.htm
Accessed July 21, 2013

10. A Machine to End War - A Famous Inventor, Picturing Life 100 Years from Now, Reveals an Astounding Scientific Venture Which He Believes Will Change the Course of History by Nikola Tesla as told to George Sylvester Viereck. It was common practice in the days before magnetic tape for a journalist to write an interview not using direct quotes, but rather from notes.
http://www.pbs.org/tesla/res/res_art11.html Accessed July 23, 2013

11. Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Biography of a Genius by Marc Seifer, Cital Press Books, 1998, page 303. It might be noted that the reign of Alexander I was dictatorial and tyrannical.

End note. Regarding the eugenics statement, since there is no precedent or antecedent for Tesla referring to undesirables, I personally believe these words derive from the influence of Viereck. Regarding race, I'll leave the last word to Tesla. "Peace can only come as a natural consequence of universal enlightenment and merging of races, and we are still far from this blissful realization." My Inventions, The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla, compiled by Ben Johnston, Experimenter Publishing Company, Inc., copyright 1919.

More to the story

Who was Nikola Tesla?
Who was Tesla, really?
Tesla versus Einstein
Tesla versus Adrian Monk
Health Tips from Nikola Tesla

A Predatory Mind - available for purchase

copyright 2013, Martin Hill Ortiz