Wednesday, October 29, 2014

A Publisher of Books

A businessman, a Zionist, a refugee and a publisher, Salman Schocken lived a life driven by his passion for words. Born in Posen, Germany, on October 29, 1877, Schocken was the second son of a simple shopkeeper. A self-educated lover of culture and literature, Schocken spent his youth in Berlin but, at the age of 24, decided to join his brother, Simon, in business in Zwichau. Together, they founded the Schocken Department Store, which became a chain of 20 stores. Eventually, Schocken Department Stores was one of the most successful businesses in Germany. Salman became the sole owner after his brother’s unexpected death in a car accident in 1929.

Schocken’s great passion for high culture and literature continued throughout his life. In 1915, he founded the monthly Der Jude magazine with Martin Buber In 1931, he created Schocken Verlag, a publishing house that focused on Judaism and published many important Hebrew works translated into German.

When the Nazis came to power, however, Schocken was forced to sell his business enterprises to Merkur AG. (Post-war reparations were made for the loss of property to the Schocken family as recently as 2014.) Shortly thereafter, Schocken and his family moved to British-Mandate Palestine.

Although he was an ardent Zionist, Schocken did not remain in the Holy Land, but moved to New York in 1940. During his time in Jerusalem, he built the Schocken Library, was a board member of the Hebrew University and established Schocken Publishing House, Ltd. He also purchased Haaretz newspaper, which was managed by his son Gerschom until 1990.

Schocken’s love of literature led him, in 1945, to open the third incarnation of his publishing house, Schocken Books, Inc. with the aid of Hannah Arendt and Nahum Glatzer. Today it is an imprint of Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group at Random House.

Salman Schocken died of a heart attack in Switzerland in August 1959.

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