Albert Einstein once said: “The world is not destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who observe it.”
Thanks to the Internet, Albert Einstein, the famous 20th-century physicist and founder of the theory of relativity, is also known for saying things he never actually said.
However, that doesn’t mean that every single quote attributed to Einstein on the internet is wrong. Take this statement, which has been circulating online for well over a decade: “The world is not being destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch it doing nothing.”
In our searches of newspaper archives, we found instances of this quote being quoted verbatim, dating back at least to 2011. For example, San Angelo Standard-Times columnist Britt Towery wrote in the October 21, 2011 edition of the paper:
Albert Einstein knew more than just a little science. He is credited with saying, “The world is not destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch it without doing anything.”
However, in none of the numerous examples we examined was there a source, date, or place that would allow us to verify the attribution to Einstein. We finally found what we were looking for at one of our favorite (and most reliable) internet reference sites, Quote Investigator.
The Quotations Investigator has found a variant of the statement, also attributed to Soros, which is a translation into English of something Einstein originally wrote in German:
[Pablo Casals] recognizes very clearly that the world is in greater danger from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.
The passage appeared in this form in the English translation of a book, Conversations with Casals, originally published in French in 1955, by Josep Maria Corredor. Einstein’s passage is from a note he wrote to the author in German in 1953. Here’s that note in English (via Quote Investigator):
It is certainly unnecessary to await my voice when praising Pablo Casals as a very great artist, as all who are entitled to speak agree on the subject. What I particularly admire about him is his firm attitude not only towards the oppressors of his countrymen, but also towards those opportunists who are always ready to compromise with the devil. He sees very clearly that the world is in greater danger from those who condone or encourage evil than from those who actually commit it.
We have been able to find instances of this variant in other sources that are much older than the internet version. For example, in 1964 it was quoted verbatim in the December 12 issue of the Santa Maria Times, which contained an article entitled “Casals: A Legend in His Own Time.”
The Citation Investigator “supposes” that the popular Internet variant of the citation was derived (among other things) from Einstein’s 1953 testimony about Casals, stating that “it remains possible that Einstein made a separate testimony in this family , which QI has not yet discovered”. Despite this possibility, Snopes concludes that since both variants convey the same message with the same meaning and in similar words, “the world is not being destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch it without doing anything do”. correctly attributed to Einstein.
Casals, Pablo, and Josep Maria Corredor. Discussions with Casals. Dutton, 1957.
Turmy, Brit. “Wall Street out of touch with Main Street?” San Angelo Standard-Times, Oct. 21, 2011, p. 5. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/120311223/san-angelo-standard-times/.
“Casals: A Legend in Its Time.” Santa Maria Times, December 12, 1964, p. 25. newspapers.com, https://www.newspapers.com/clip/120327026/santa-maria-times/.
Emery, David. “Did Einstein say, ‘The only thing more dangerous than ignorance is arrogance’?” Snopes, 29 Dec 2022, https://www.snopes.com/fact-check/einstein-dangerous-ignorance-arrogance/.
LeeJessica. “Albert Einstein: Quotes He Never Said and Other Facts.” Snopes, February 15, 2022, https://www.snopes.com/collections/albert-einstein-collection/.
The world is in greater danger from those who tolerate or encourage evil than from those who actually perpetrate it – Quote Investigator®. June 1, 2022, https://quoteinvestigator.com/2022/06/01/peril/.