“And the last rest of sense for inferiority fell off me even if I never lost a bit of respect and
a certain timidity in the following twenty-seven years.”
Helen Dukas after her interview with Albert Einstein, in a letter to Carl Seelig
Short life history: Helen Dukas
* October 17, 1896 Freiburg im Breisgau, † February 10, 1982 Princeton, New Jersey, USA
Helen Dukas, her first name was actually Helene, had six siblings. Her father Leopold Dukas, a merchant, came from Sulzburg and her mother Hannchen, nee Liebmann, from Hechingen, where also Elsa Einstein, Albert Einstein’s second wife, came from. The family Dukas was Jewish.
Until her fifteenth birthday Helen attended the School for Higher Education for Girls in Freiburg. After the early death of her mother in 1909 she abandoned her education and from now on took care of the family. Her father died in 1919 and only then did she start working in her first job as a kindergarten teacher.
In May 1921 she went to Munich and worked there as a teacher. One and a half years later in January 1923 she went to Berlin where she worked as a secretary in a publishing house. Helen Dukas never married.
In 1928 Elsa Einstein was looking for a secretary for her husband Albert. Through the acquaintance with the Dukas family Helen applied for the job with Elsa in Haberlandstrasse 5. This interview and also the interview on the following day between Albert Einstein (1879–1955) and Helen Dukas were positive. This was on April 13, 1928.
From this day on she was Albert Einstein’s secretary and after Elsa’s death in December 1936 also his housekeeper. Thus it stayed until the death of Einstein on April 18, 1955.
In October 1933 she emigrated to the United States with the Einstein family and on October 1, 1940 Helen Dukas, Albert Einstein and his stepdaughter Margot swore the oath on the American constitution.
In 1950 Einstein had appointed Helen Dukas and Dr. Otto Nathan (German-American national economist, 1893–1987) in his last will as executors of his literary heritage. She devoted herself to this task with great engagement and thanks to her never ending work many documents of Einstein were collected, looked through, sorted and analysed. These documents can be found today in the Hebrew University in Jerusalem in the Albert Einstein Archive and serve, among other things, as basis for the book series The Collected Papers of Albert Einstein.
Helen Dukas also published a book about Albert Einstein, her Einstein biography Einstein – creator and rebel, which she wrote together with Einstein’s former scientific assistant Banesh Hoffmann.
Helen Dukas died on February 10, 1982 in Princeton.