Erwin Schrödinger (Born 12 August 1887 – Died 4 January 1961) was a Nobel Prize-winning Austrian and naturalized Irish physicist who is widely cited as the father of quantum physics, remembered for his 1935 thought experiment "Schrödinger’s Cat". In 2021, the Irish Times published an article with the headline "How Erwin Schrödinger indulged his ‘Lolita complex’ in Ireland", which led to many later articles describing him as a paedophile/pedophile. This page examines, where possible, the publicly available evidence used by Wikipedia and the influential Irish Times piece, which is the main source given by subsequent media articles, negatively impacting Schrödinger's legacy.
Was Schrödinger a "pedophile"? Assessing the evidence
Reportedly, Schrödinger kept a record of his sexual activity, which included sexual contacts with people below 18 years of age, in a diary he called Ephemeridae. To our knowledge, the diary is not accessible to the public via a public/digital archive, and claims about its contents have not been, and cannot be independently verified by Newgon editors, the Irish Times or any other media outlet. In this article, we use pink highlighter to draw attention to important facts and quotations.
As of February 2023, the English Wikipedia for Schrödinger uses information from at least one biographer in a deceptive and misleading way. The page stated:
At the age of 39, Schrödinger tutored 14-year-old "Ithi" Junger. As John Gribbin recounted in his 2012 biography of Schrödinger, "As well as the maths, the lessons included 'a fair amount of petting and cuddling' and Schrödinger soon convinced himself that he was in love with Ithi". Schrödinger assured Junger she wouldn't become pregnant, and seduced her at 17. She later became pregnant and had an abortion that left her sterile. Schrödinger left her soon after and moved on to other targets. Kate Nolan, a pseudonym used by surviving family to protect the victim, was also impregnated by Schrödinger amid claims of a lack of consent.
This passage may leave readers incorrectly believing that: 1.) Schrödinger and Ithi had sexual contact when she was 14 (the Gribbin biography does not specify when "petting and cuddling" first occurred, while the 1989 biography by Walter Moore implies it occurred without specifying the year or age of first occurrence, but also states that "not long after her seventeenth birthday, they became lovers"); 2.) that Schrödinger and Ithi's relationship was not one of mutual willingness and romantic attraction; 3.) that Schrödinger used Ithi for sex and pressured her to have an abortion and felt no concern after the botched abortion procedure; or 4.) that Kate Nolan was under 18 or the local age of consent at the time of claimed sexual contact with Schrödinger. The sources cited do not support these claims.
Contrary to the information excluded by Wikipedia, the Moore biography (1989) cited in the page explicitly states that Schrödinger did not want Ithi to have an abortion procedure:
One of their best times together was in the summer of 1932 in Berlin. Ithi came to stay at the Schrödinger house. Anny was conveniently away, and only the maid was there. They went walking, swimming, and rowing together. She met [Max] Planck and [Albert] Einstein.
Their carefree happiness ended when Ithi became pregnant. Erwin tried to persuade her to have the child; he said he would take care of it, but he did not offer to divorce Anny. [...] In desperation [that Schrödinger would not divorce his wife - Newgon], Ithi arranged for an abortion. Although it was performed by a qualified medical practitioner, it seems likely that damage to the uterus occurred – she later married an Englishman and suffered a series of miscarriages and was never able to bring a pregnancy to term. When Ithi left Berlin in 1932, she was broken hearted, yet she never lost her loving regard for Erwin.
Some months later he recorded a strange dream. He and Ithi were going to bed, but there was another person present in the room who kept calling his mother by her first name, [...] this may have been a voice calling his mother to punish a naughty boy, or it may have been the spirit of his unborn son.
Note that Ithi was "born in August, 1912" (Moore), and the couple had pregnancy inducing sex, according to Moore, "in the summer of 1932 in Berlin." As one German "factchecker" article in Der Standard (The Standard, 2022) pointed out, this means that Ithi was 20 years old, not 17, at the time of her abortion procedure. This information was available to both Wikipedia and the Irish Times, but was excluded. Additionally, the cited Der Standard (2022) article questions "how trustworthy the biography of Moore's is", as Schrödinger's grandson Leonhard Braunizer recalled in conversation that the 30-year-old book included "many undocumented and psychologizing assumptions" and "many speculative claims about the private and love life of his grandfather," leading his family to break off all contact with Moore after its publication.
Nevertheless, unlike Wikipedia, the use of victimological language ("victim";"survivor") is not shared by the biographers Moore or Gribbin. A less biased account of their relationship which also takes account of how the younger party (Ithi) felt, can be found in Gribbin's book:
Ithi was one of a pair of non-identical twin sisters whose mother was an acquaintance of Anny Schrödinger. [...] The maths lessons were a great success, with most of their tutor’s attention naturally being devoted to Ithi, and both girls achieved the standard required to move on with their classmates when the next school term began. But as well as the maths, the lessons included “a fair amount of petting and cuddling,” and Schrödinger soon convinced himself that he was in love with Ithi [...] He talked to her about his scientific work and about his religious beliefs, wrote poetry for her, spent a skiing holiday with the two girls and their mother over Christmas 1927 [...] Of course, the head of the young convent-school girl was turned by all the attention, and in due course she fell in love with him. But he was patient. It wasn’t until she was sixteen that he went into Ithi’s room in the middle of the night (during another skiing holiday) and told her how much he loved her; and not until just after her seventeenth birthday, in August 1929, that the relationship was consummated. The affair continued into the 1930s, with Schrödinger at one point seriously considering divorcing Anny to marry Ithi, and forms a backdrop which cannot be ignored to Schrödinger’s scientific life in the years following his discovery of wave mechanics (pp. 131-132).
The Irish Times
The Irish Times piece is misleading given its title, mixing the above event involving a legal minor/teenager - Ithi Junger - who was close-in-age to (or exceeding) many age of consent statutes at 17-20, with the case of Kate Nolan (pseudonym) who was 26 when she met Schrödinger (Gribbin, p. 213) and became pregnant. In a possible attempt at deception via censorship/omission, the Irish Times cuts short an indented quote passage from Moore's biography, which the article uses as evidence for the assertion that Schrödinger justified "his predilection for teenage girls [...] on the grounds that their innocence was the ideal match for his natural genius." Restricting the information given to readers and changing the meaning of the the quote in Moore's biography, the full passage, with censored content in pink highlighter, reads:
Comparable in some way to the end of the spectrum, which in its deepest violet shows a tendency towards purple and red, it seems to be the usual thing that men of strong, genuine intellectuality are immensely attracted only by women who, forming the very beginning of the intellectual series, are as nearly connected to the preferred springs of nature as they themselves. Nothing intermediate will do, since no woman will ever approach nearer to genius by intellectual education than some unintellectuals do by birth so to speak. It has often been said that no woman really has genius. The fact is that they all have. Genius is nothing outstanding in them, it is the rule, but it is usually too weak to withstand the contamination by culture and civilization. I am fairly convinced that the only sensible thing in this moment is to make [Ithi] give herself to me completely, and to make this not by any means, but by the means of real genuine love only. If I don’t succeed I will take it to be the right thing that I don’t, and I will not be blamed as a shy lover, but I am fairly sure that I will succeed.
There are two mentions of attraction to pre-pubescent individuals. Carlo Rovelli claims, in his book Helgoland (2021), that Schrödinger "always kept a number of relationships going at once – and made no secret of his fascination with preadolescent girls." The Irish Times refers to Bernard Biggar, who claims that Schrödinger was interested in pursuing a sexual/romantic relationship with his cousin, Barbara MacEntee, when she was 12 years old. Apparently, her uncle advised Schrödinger to no longer pursue her, and Schrödinger took his advice, later writing in his journal that she was one of his "unrequited loves". This information is presented as new, while the claim in fact comes from Moore's (1989) biography. Wikipedia's statement that "MacEntee died in 1995, with the account emerging posthumously," is therefore false: the account appears in Moore (1989), 6 years before her death, and is reproduced by the Irish Times piece in almost the exact same way Moore originally wrote.
Despite sensationalist media articles, we have only found one clear example of minor-older sex that Schrödinger engaged in (Ithi Junger, 17 years old).
Attraction, not action
Schrödinger is known to have declared his attraction towards Lotte Rella (described as his "adolescent crush" by Gribbin, p. 20), who was "several years his junior" (Irish Times), Felicie Krauss, who the Irish Times incorrectly states "was 15 when Schrödinger was 24", and Annemarie Bertel who was 16 when Schrödinger was 25.
Moore describes Krauss (14-17) and Schrödinger's mutually loving, unconsummated relationship:
Felicie was born in 1896, and was therefore about eight years younger than Erwin. As a boy, he used to be told at children’s gatherings, ‘now look after little Felicie’, a task that he undertook with considerable reluctance. When her father died in 1911, Felicie was not yet fifteen years old. She was growing up to be a beautiful teenager, and Erwin was now delighted to be with her as much as possible. He was always captivated by girls who were just at the onset of womanhood. Felicie’s mother, however, wanted to discourage any closer relationship with the Schrödingers and viewed Erwin as a quite impossible match for her daughter. With the support of her relations, she issued an edict that Erwin and Felicie would be allowed to meet only once a month. As might be expected, such abstinence made their hearts grow fonder, and they were soon deeply in love. They wanted to get married and considered themselves to be informally engaged.
Erwin’s prospects as a physicist were dismal from a financial point of view. [...] He was desperately in love with Felicie and went to his father to ask if he could give up the university and take a leading role in the family linoleum business. He wanted to get married and saw no likelihood of being able as a physicist to support a wife. With great wisdom, Rudolf [Schrödinger's father] said no, he would not allow such a thing. He had sacrificed the scientific work he loved, to go into business, and had regretted it all his life; he did not intend to see his son make the same kind of mistake. Erwin must stay with his university work in physics. Besides, the family factory was not prospering and would not really provide for Felicie to the extent her family would think appropriate.
Erwin was now twenty-five and Felicie seventeen. Baronin Krauss became alarmed at their developing relationship. Her most serious objection to Erwin as a son-in-law was probably not that he was poor. The social standing of his parents was a greater obstacle, for the Krauss family as members of the minor nobility could place a ‘Von’ before their surname, which was important in imperial Vienna. Even worse was the fact that Erwin was nominally a Protestant, but actually a Freidenker, a free-thinker who probably did not even believe in God. A noble Protestant might have been acceptable but a poor atheist dabbling in arcane mathematics was unthinkable as a son-in-law.
[...] Felicie was persuaded (or forced by her strong-willed mother) to break the informal engagement. This happened about the middle of 1913. In the context of Austrian society at that time, it would have been virtually impossible for Felicie to withstand the pressure of her family and marry Erwin despite parental disapproval. [...] In 1917, Felicie married a young lieutenant in the Austrian army, Ferdinand Bianchi. He was a baron like her father and came from an old imperial military family, which at that time was quite wealthy. He was thus eminently agreeable to Felicie’s mother on religious, social, and financial grounds. [...] Felicie never lost her interest in Erwin’s career and later became a good friend of Schrödinger’s wife Anny.
On Annemarie Bertel (16), Gribben explains that Schrödinger met her "just after the split with Felicie", when she was brought to join his family and friends on a trip to a lake:
They also brought with them a teenage girl from Salzburg, Annemarie (Anny) Bertel, to look after the children. She had been born on the last day of 1896, so in the summer of 1913 she was only sixteen, and still in pigtails. Fifty years later, in an interview for the Archives for the History of Quantum Physics, she recalled being impressed by the “very good looking” young scientist, and he clearly noticed her, but nothing significant passed between them at the time. (p. 52). [...] [Schrödinger] enjoyed a visit from Anny Bertel, who had turned twenty at the end of 1916. According to Schrödinger’s notebooks, which rather ungallantly indicate all his lovers (albeit in code), they did not become intimate at this time. (p. 57).
Sources consulted here do not evidence any sexual activity between Schrödinger, Krauss or Bertel, while either female was under the age of 18, or any specific sexual activity at all. The only mention of a specific individual who would have a reasonable likelihood of being pre-pubescent, is Barbara MacEntee (12 years old), who is explicitly stated to have not had sexual contact with Schrödinger, after he accepted her relative's advice "to no longer pursue her". This claim about MacEntee is first made by Moore (1989) and popularized by the Irish Times, but none of Schrödinger or MacEntee's diaries or writings have ever been digitized, photographed, and made publicly available which would evidence the claim. Taken together, there is thus no evidence provided for the claim that Schrödinger was preferentially attracted to people before puberty, i.e. a "pedophile". He may, however, qualify as a non-exclusive MAP (Minor Attracted Person), or a typical heterosexual teleiophile, as research has shown non-preferential attraction to post-pubescent minors is common in males (see Research).
Response to "pedophile" allegations
Despite the lack of evidence to accurately declare Schrödinger a pedophile, multiple media outlets uncritically reproduced the claims and framing of the Irish Times. In response to these claims, a petition which gained somewhere between 50-250 signatures depending on the source consulted, was started on change.org, calling to rename a lecture theater at Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, after "a non-paedophile" instead of Schrödinger. The Irish Times article appears to have had a direct impact on professors in the Physics department, with The University Times reporting that:
Two staff members in the School confirmed to "The University Times" that a meeting will be held to discuss the possibility of renaming the theatre, after an "Irish Times" article published in December detailed Schrödinger’s record as a “sexual predator”.
On the 8th February 2022, the School of Physics made the decision to revert the room to its previous name, the “Physics Lecture Theatre”, and stated plans to remove a portrait of Schrödinger from the building.
Other nobel prize winners:
- New Scientist: Schrodinger's Cat
- Archived Irish Times article on "How Schrodinger indulged in his lolita complex"
- Moore writes "‘such things’ included a fair amount of petting and cuddling, but despite these distractions, the tutorials were a success", after noting that Ithi's tutoring began after the academic year of 1925–26, and reproduces a poem he sent her in 1927. 'Petting and cuddling' is mentioned without a clear statement of the year or age it first occurred. Search "Ithi" in Walter Moore. (1989, reprint 2015). Schrödinger: Life and Thought. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
- Der Standard article: Under the section "Unrichtige Angaben" (Incorrect information), the article states (translated): "the fact is that all "new facts" can be found in Moore's biography over 30 years ago. Only they are now not only reinterpreted for concrete allegations, but also also reproduced incorrectly so that the allegations "keep" better. For example, the sexual approach to the Ithi Junge born in Salzburg, according to Moore, began after being 16. Not long after his 17th birthday, her sexual relationship started, Moore continued. According to Moore, the abortion did not take place at 17, but three years later at 20, carried out by a highly qualified doctor. It is not certain whether she was the reason that Ithi later suffered miscarriage. The young woman also seems to have had a very good friendly relationship with the physicist after the alleged abortion."
- Gribbin, John. (2012). Erwin Schrödinger and the Quantum Revolution. Transworld.
- Rovelli, Carlo (2021). Helgoland: Making Sense of the Quantum Revolution. Translated by Segre, Erica; Carnell, Simon (First North American ed.). New York. p. 20.
- The age given in diagnostic criteria for the typical preferential attraction for a diagnosis of pedophilia, is before puberty "usually 13 years or younger" by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), though we acknowledge that puberty varies between individuals.
- University Times on name change
- Breitbart on name change
- Forbes on "revelations"
- aninjusticemag.com: "Schrodinger was a pedophile"
- Change.org petition
- University Times: Call from Physics staff
- TrinityNews.ie: Schrodinger's Controversy