WAS TESLA ANTI-SEMITIC?
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
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.
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
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
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
In the coming years, hundreds of thousands of Slavs would lose their lives to the Nazis.
1. Jewish Virtual History Tour - Croatia.
Accessed July 23, 2013.
2. Jewish Virtual History Tour - Serbia. http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/serbia.html
Accessed July 22, 2013.
As quoted in Wizard: The Life and Times of Nikola Tesla, Biography of a
Genius, page 13. Marc Seifer, Citadel Press Book, 1998.
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.
5. My Inventions, The Autobiography of Nikola Tesla,
compiled by Ben Johnston, Experimenter Publishing Company, Inc.,
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.
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.
George Sylvester Viereck: Poet and Propagandist, Neil M. Johnson.
Copyright University of Iowa.
Accessed July 21, 2013
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
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 storyWho was Nikola Tesla?Who was Tesla, really?Tesla versus EinsteinTesla versus Adrian MonkHealth Tips from Nikola Tesla
A Predatory Mind - available for purchase
copyright 2013, Martin Hill Ortiz