Einstein was willing to put his pacifism and commitment to peace into action, even at the risk of his own hide. In 1914, he and three colleagues in Germany singled themselves out by daring to sign a statement protesting the then-empire's militarism and involvement in World War I [source: Kaku]. The four issued the declaration in reply to the "Manifesto to the Civilized World," a government-sponsored document that defended Germany's invasion of neutral Belgium and which nearly 100 eminent German intellectuals signed. While many of his colleagues offered the fruits of their genius to the war effort, Einstein refused.
The war left Germany devastated, deeply in debt and facing social upheaval. During the turmoil that followed, radical students at the University of Berlin took the rector and several professors hostage, and no one wanted to take their chances finding out how the police would resolve the standoff [sources: Bolles; Kaku]. Both students and professors respected Einstein, so he and Max Born, a German-born pioneer of quantum mechanics, found themselves in a position to defuse the situation, which they did [source: Kaku]. In later years, Einstein would recall with amused wonder how naïve they had been for never considering that the students might have turned on them [source: Bolles].