i n s t i t u t i o n a l  m e m o r y  

Since 1997, I have been asking notable publishers and editors, a bookseller, and a journalist who follows these topic about the book business and the remarkable, disturbing alteration we have seen in its structure. Generously, they have told me how they entered the book trade; spoken about writers they’ve published and declined to publish; described the (changing) class structure of their domain; talked straight about money, commerce, and corporate capitalism; described their way of practicing responsible publishing. They have taken us into the precarious business of selling books, and have traced the advent and threat/promise of electronic publishing. Without exception they have been serious readers, usually of more than one language. They have recognized that times have changed. They have observed with wary friendliness the generations coming up. They have spoken out of the old values and honorable traditions of book-publishing. They, and I, have wondered whether these can still exist in corporate publishing. Several eminent editors recently published books doubting it. It’s been difficult not to agree.

I thought it was time to look closely at a single publishing company, one that had played a significant role in European and American Jewish – and non-Jewish – culture. I would follow its fortunes from the days of its cultivated founder, through his death and the sale of his company to a privately-owned corporation, to its being re-organized as a small sub-division of a gigantic media conglomerate. Its existence is full of twists and ironies, of displacement across continents, its founder’s intention revered but re-interpreted in a new time. Its story is corporate but, also, is composed of the intersection of enlightened personalities and the works of great writers with the most awful events of the twentieth century. Following it, I would examine the play of high culture with corporate mind-sets and see how it worked.

These new conversations will appear in the next three issues of Archipelago, culminating this series that may serve as an opening into an institutional memory contrasting itself with the current corporate structure, reflecting on glories of its own, revealing what remains constant amid the flux. The people speaking here are strong-minded characters engaged with their historical circumstances. Out of that engagement have appeared, and continue to be published, a number of books that we can say, rightly, belong to literature.



Schocken Books


Salman Schocken, a German Jewish magnate and philanthropist, established the Schocken Verlag  in Berlin, in 1931. In the seven years his company existed – was allowed to exist – in Weimar, then Nazi, Germany, it published 225 titles of classic Hebrew works important to the educated, assimilated Jews of its founder’s class and generation. Owner of a chain of department stores – the stores were devoted to mass merchandizing but many of the buildings were designed, handsomely, by the Modernist architect Erich Mendelsohn – Schocken was a man of wealth and leisure who devoted himself to collecting fine art and literature. His interests were in “Jewish liturgy and sacral poetry Biblical and midrashic texts; medieval secular Hebrew poetry; Yiddish literature from the 15th, 16th, and 17th centuries; rare and original first editions; illuminated Hebrew manuscripts, and ancient Jewish coins.” While re-investigating his Jewish roots – he was “greatly influenced” by the TALES OF RABBI NACHMAN OF BRATZLAW, translated by Martin Buber – he became convinced that the great works of sacred and secular Hebrew writing should be translated into German and published for the sake of his fellow believers. “We have no working scholarship and no books,” he is said to have lamented.


To Schocken, who found his spiritual and intellectual strength in these ancient words and ideas, this lack of books and scholarship was unbearable. So important to him were they that in the course of his World War I relief work – helping resident German Jews with Russian citizenship interned in provincial towns, Jews in areas of Lithuania and Poland occupied by the German army, and Jewish prisoners of war – he provided them with books and teaching materials, in addition to food, blankets, and medicine.

In 1916, Schocken helped a German Zionist organization, the “Zionistische Vereinigung für Deutschland,” establish a fund to subsidize Jewish scholarship. His hope was that some of the work produced by the recipients would be suitable for publication. When the funds proved insufficient to encourage a meaningful “arbeitende Wissenschaft,” Schocken founded an academy of Jewish scholarship and a research institute for Jewish poetry, gathering around him the leading Jewish scholars of the day – including Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig.

Yet neither the fund nor the academy produced many books….

In 1928 Schocken thus decided to establish his own publishing house. His decision  gained urgency when the Nazi regime revoked the German citizenship of Jews in 1933; every Jew who had considered himself a true German was suddenly stripped of an identity. Schocken was now fully dedicated to spreading Jewish knowledge and culture by publishing books in a popular and accessible vein, for a Jewish audience that needed these works more than ever.

One of the first works was by Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig, who had been commissioned by the publishing firm of Lambert Schneider to produce a new German translation of the Old Testament. Schneider’s financial difficulties gave Schocken the opportunity to acquire the rights to this project, and indeed to invite Lambert Schneider himself to join his new firm.

Buber and Rosenzwieg’s DIE SCHRIFT (“The Scriptures”) formed the heart of Schocken’s German publishing program. its overall goal was to bring centuries of Jewish culture and history to a German-speaking audience. Eminent scholars such as Leo Baeck and Hermann Cohen contributed titles on Jewish history, theology, and philosophy. Buber continued his work in Chassidic and kabbalistic mysticism.

Along with titles in German, Schocken published classical and modern Hebrew poetry in Hebrew with a facing German translation. In addition, he began a series of Jüdische Leserbücher, intended for use in Jewish schools, unions, and adult education institutes.[1]


In 1933, Schocken Verlag also began publishing an annual Almanach, an “anthology of Jewish literature  dealing with diaspora existence. It included texts from all periods and places in Jewish history, describing collective suffering but emphasizing the national salvation of the Jews, whether through the prospect of a Messiah or a Jewish homeland.” The first Almanach also included a calendar for the forthcoming year, 5694, and information about contemporary Palestine; it continued to appear each year at Rosh Hashanah, until the Verlag  was shut down in 1938.

In 1934, Salman Schocken emigrated to Palestine, while Lambert Schneider, his managing editor, and Moritz Spitzer, editor-in-chief, remained in Berlin, operating the company by virtue of an active exchange of letters with him. “The Verlag’s final ambitious vision was called ‘Gastgeschenk.’ If, as the Nazis claimed, the Jews were a ‘guest people,’ living parasitically off their German ‘hosts,’ Schocken wanted to show the gifts that the guests had brought to the great body of German literature and culture. He found it particularly important that these books appear while the Jews were being closed out of German intellectual and spiritual life.”

In Palestine, Schocken established the Schocken Publishing House, Ltd., under the direction of his son Gerschom. “But the climate and  the political realities of life were at odds with the intellectual Zionism he had cultivated in Germany; the builders of a new state were by and large more concerned with the practical demands of agriculture, urban planning, and social welfare. There was little demand for the treasures of ancient Hebrew literature.”

In 1940, Schocken and his family – except for the one son – took ship for the United States, where he immediately joined the widening circle of brilliant German Jewish refugees adding their luster to American cultural and intellectual life. Five years later, enlisting the aid of Hannah Arendt and Nahum Glatzer, he founded Schocken Books in New York.

Like many of my generation in the late Sixties, I had any number of Schocken books of literature and social thought on my shelves. Their authority was grave and unassailable. When in Paris several years ago, I learned that there were in fact two publishers called Schocken – the second being in Israel, the name pronounced with a long o – I became interested at once in the fate of these companies and deeply curious about their founder. As a result, this serious – though, alas, hardly definitive – look at the history of Schocken Books, to appear in the next three issues of Archipelago, will bring the series “Institutional Memory” to a fitting, although I think disturbing, close.

The first of the conversations is with Altie Karper, the managing editor of Schocken and Pantheon Books. We spoke twice in New York, in the editorial offices of Schocken Books – located between those of Pantheon and Knopf – in late January and early May, with further correspondence by e-mail. I am indebted to her for invaluable background materials, including the pamphlet quoted in this introduction, and for her generous and open professional hospitality. Her love and respect for the legacy of Salman Schocken was moving and will be apparent in her discourse.






Salman Schocken and Schocken Verlag


KATHERINE McNAMARA:  The history of Schocken Books is a remarkable story of a publishing house, from the Schocken Verlag  of Berlin, founded by Salman Schocken, to the Schocken Books that is now a division of the Knopf Publishing Group, which is part of Random House, Inc., which is owned by Bertelsmann, the enormous German media corporation. Let us begin at the beginning: Salman Schocken was born in 1877, in Posnan. His father had been a small merchant…

ALTIE KARPER:  …and Salman and his brother, Simon, decided to do the same thing on a grander scale, expanding from one department store that they started in 1901 eventually into a chain of nineteen, and they became very successful. He was also a man of letters and a book collector, and in the early part of the century he became a committed and active Zionist. All of this resulted in his decisions to start publishing books of Jewish interest in Germany, because he felt there was a need for educated German Jews to learn about their heritage and culture. He was busy with his department stores while he was doing this, it was a kind of avocation, but he founded Schocken Books in 1931 because he felt that there was a need that had to be filled, to publish serious works of literature and philosophy that spoke to German Jews and informed them about their heritage, about where they came from: that’s why Schocken Verlag came into being.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: In THE INVENTION OF HEBREW PROSE, Robert Alter traces the development of the Hebrew novel after the Haskalah, the Jewish Enlightenment. The movement of Hebrew from a sacred into a modernized secular literature began in about the 1880s, Alter writes, when all these bright young men from the shtetlach, the small villages in the outreaches of the empire, came to the cities and decided to write novels; and it continued, not without harsh setbacks, into the 1930s, when it was stopped for good in European catastrophe. He says, “In Germany, two fine Hebrew publishing houses were active, Stybel … and Schocken (the latter also having a German-language operation), which in the quality of their literary titles and the elegance of their typography and bookbinding would not be surpassed by any of their Israeli successors.”[2]

There is also a small essay by Anthony David Skinner, called “Salman Schocken and the Jewish Renaissance.”[3] Let me read from it, as well, because it leads to a question I want to ask about Schocken’s intentions. Skinner writes, “A cultural movement that absorbed Kafka’s METAMORPHOSIS into the Jewish canon offered a Judaism more defined by the tastes and judgments of writers, editors, scholars, and entrepreneurs than by tradition. Hence the irony that one of the leading figures in the Jewish renaissance was the department store magnate Salman Schocken. Through the media empire Schocken established in Berlin, Jewish culture left the arena of the sacred and entered into the mass market.” It’s a provocative statement. As I understand it, Salman Schocken was interested in Hebrew literature – the necessary books of Hebrew literature – but he thought that an increasingly assimilated population that spoke German, needed access to these books. He published in translation, in German: did he publish also in Hebrew?

ALTIE KARPER: In Germany, he published classical and modern Hebrew poetry in Hebrew with facing German translation. But he didn't undertake a major Hebrew publishing program until he moved to what was then Palestine, in 1934. In Germany he published in German; but the kinds of translations he was interested in publishing in German were the Bible and classic works of Jewish philosophy, to make these volumes accessible to assimilated German Jews. He was interested in acquainting German Jews with the Jewish philosophers of the day – Buber, Rosenzweig, Gershom Scholem, and Walter Benjamin and in publishing contemporary secular Jewish intellectuals.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Let me make a little diversion. America during the ‘20s and ‘30s saw the beginnings and rise of important publishing in New York by Jewish publishing houses. The fortunes that founded the New York Jewish publishing houses also came from dry-goods merchants. Why was this so: the great fortunes built upon merchandising coinciding with Jewish secular literature being published by means of those fortunes?

ALTIE KARPER:  I think it’s as basic as the fact that there were professions that were just not open to Jews at this time: in banks, in law firms, in publishing houses. There were quotas for law schools and medical schools. But no one said you couldn’t open up your own dry-goods  business, so that’s where many of them went.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Of course. And then they used their fortunes for this great cultural work. Perhaps there are books on the subject in English, about the Schocken Verlag  and its milieu? The Verlag was founded in 1931. Hitler came to power in 1933. We know from many sources what the atmosphere in Berlin was like at that time, but, specifically, what sort of an environment did Schocken and  his circle live in?

ALTIE KARPER:  I think that they were aware that this was not going to have a good end; that it was going to have a horrible end. In fact, I think it was a combination of his awareness of what was going on in Germany and his Zionism that made him, very shortly after he founded Schocken Verlag, move to Palestine and get involved in publishing there. He ran Schocken Verlag  pretty much from afar from about 1934 to 1938, when Schocken Verlag ceased  publishing.

Interestingly enough, after ‘33 was when Schocken began publishing Kafka.[4] Kafka had been published by a  number of secular German publishers. Then along came the rule that Jews could be published only by Jews, and Christians only by Christians; and that’s how Schocken acquired Kafka. What’s even more interesting is that one of Kafka’s publishers was Verlag Kurt Wolff, which was the predecessor of Pantheon. It is kind of nice that we’re all back together again, here.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Also, the obvious irony is that you’re all owned by Bertelsmann.

ALTIE KARPER:  Well, I’ll tell you something, on a personal note, which I think will interest you. When Arthur Samuelson, Schocken’s editorial director from 1993 through 1999, announced that he was leaving, and Sonny Mehta [president of the Knopf  Publishing Group and editor-in-chief of Alfred A. Knopf] started looking for someone to replace him, the people who called him most often were from Bertelsmann: “Are you finding somebody who will be good for Schocken, because it’s really important to us. Schocken must continue, and it must continue the way it is, and can we help you look for somebody?” All the signals that we get from them are positive:  “We want this to continue, and we want it to be what it’s always been and to keep getting better.”

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Who are the writers Salman Schocken published during that period? The first and obvious one is not Kafka, but S.Y. Agnon. They met in Berlin in 1914, introduced by mutual friends in the Zionist movement.

ALTIE KARPER:  Right; he so valued what Agnon was doing that he offered him a subsidy, he kept him going while he was writing. While he was not being published by Schocken at the time – because this was before Schocken Verlag was established. Salman Schocken was so impressed with what he was doing that he decided to find some way of getting Agnon into print. Eventually, Schocken did get to publish Agnon, but their relationship started out as someone who was interested in literature helping out someone who created wonderful literature.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: Schocken must have been part of an intellectual circle. Do you know what salons he went to, who he dined with?

ALTIE KARPER:  His friend and spiritual mentor was Martin Buber. That was a great intellectual relationship and a great publishing relationship. Schocken credited Buber and his writings — specifically Buber’s TALES OF RABBI NACHMAN— with reawakening within him, in the 1910s, an interest in Judaism. He believed that his primary responsibility was to bring the works of people like Martin Buber and Gershom Scholem to the attention of educated, assimilated German Jews who didn’t know about their work. He thought that this would be valuable, which indeed it was. I don’t know that he saw himself as much of a fiction publisher, or a political publisher, because he didn’t publish many books about Zionism, or advocating Zionism. He was more interested in Jewish philosophy, in acquainting people with their heritage and their culture. That’s where the works of Scholem, Buber, Rosenzweig, and Benjamin come in.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  In that circle of educated German Jewish intellectuals, would they have talked with non-Jewish intellectuals, as well?

ALTIE KARPER:  I’m sure that they did, especially during the Weimar years. There was a great hothouse of intellectual and cultural creativity and there weren’t barriers, really; those were set up later. So I’m sure that they did. What they were interested in was literature and art and everyone participating equally.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  From 1931 to 1938, Schocken was in Berlin. How big was the publishing company?

ALTIE KARPER:  It looks like they published about forty books a year. That’s a goodly size for what sounded like pretty much a mom-and-pop operation. There was Moritz Spitzer, who was editorial director, and Lambert Schneider, managing editor.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  There were two editors: Lambert Schneider and Moritz Spitzer. I understand that it was Spitzer who persuaded them that they ought to publish Kafka, even though he didn’t look “marketable.”[5] Obviously, they thought as publishers. I wonder, then, how were they capitalized, and what sort of return did they expect?

ALTIE KARPER:  What I’ve seen in some of the literature is that Schocken Verlag  was incorporated as a division of Salman Schocken’s department store empire. It was not its own independent operation. Because he was so successful – and this is kind of an irony – it seemed as though the Verlag, which was not as profitable as it might have been, was used as a kind of tax write-off, as we’d call it nowadays. Some of the profits from the stores were used to subsidize the Verlag. That allowed them not to have to pay so much in taxes on the stores. There is a small pamphlet about Salman Schocken  that was published by the Harvard Library in 1973 that describes this.[6]

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  And so, they published forty-some titles a year. For the first three years, till 1933, he lived mostly in Berlin.  Then, he moved to Palestine.

ALTIE KARPER:  With the rise of Nazism, he just didn’t see why any Jewish person would want to live in Germany.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  But wasn’t until 1938  that Schocken  Verlag  ceased  publishing in Germany.

ALTIE KARPER:  It was right after Kristallnacht.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  But until then he was allowed to publish.

ALTIE KARPER:  Under restrictions. That’s what they did: gradually ascending levels of persecution. You start putting the screws on, and then you turn them tighter, so that the people have a chance to get used to what’s going on, and then you just ratchet it all up to the next level.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: During that time, Max Brod offered them world right to the entire oeuvre of Kafka, and they decided to take them on.


KATHERINE McNAMARA:  But the Nazi’s eventually banned entirely the publication in Germany of works by Kafka.

ALTIE KARPER:  Yes,  so Schocken Verlag  made arrangements with a publisher in Prague, called Heinrich Mercy Verlag, to publish its Kafka titles with them. Of course, after Czechoslovakia was invaded by the Nazis that was the end of that.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Do you know much about the actual operations, the day-to-day operations? Did they have their own printing companies, for example? I am thinking of Robert Alter’s remarking how beautiful the volumes were.

ALTIE KARPER: I’m pretty sure they subcontracted out their printing and binding, as most publishers do.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Salman Schocken left for Palestine in the ‘30s.

ALTIE KARPER:  He left Berlin in December 1933, spent a month in Switzerland, and arrived in Palestine in 1934.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  So that he was effectively gone. And yet, people stayed and carried on.

ALTIE KARPER:  Yes. He would come back to Germany and offer the people who worked for him in his publishing company and department stores an opportunity to leave. He offered them subsidies to go to Palestine or go to America, and offered them classes. But they said, “Well, we don’t think it’s so bad here, we’ll just stay here for now,” which astonished him.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Yes, that must have been astonishing. I wondered, because the Schocken Institute, with his library, is in Jerusalem.

ALTIE KARPER: He was able to get all that out because he left in ‘33, when you could still do that.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  And his family got out?



Schocken in Palestine


KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Shall we talk about Palestine and Zionism? I noticed, for example, that his son was called Theodore, and his son-in-law was called Herzl.

ALTIE KARPER:  Herzl Rome. He took over  the running of the firm upon Salman Schocken’s death in 1959; he died in 1965. Ted Schocken was publisher of Schocken Books, until his death in 1975. Bonny Fetterman, who worked at Schocken in the 1970s  and then returned to be a senior editor here from 1982 to 1996,  remembers him. The Schocken family members involved  in the publishing operation whom I know are David Rome, the son of Herzl Rome, who started  in 1983 and was there when Schocken was bought by Random House in 1987. David came along as a consultant and performed valuable services for us for several  years. I continue to  be in touch with him. Miriam Schocken, another grandchild of Salman Schocken, was an editor here  in 1986-‘87.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: Let us go back. Schocken and his family are in Palestine.

ALTIE KARPER:  And he brought interest in a newspaper called Ha’aretz, which is in Tel Aviv.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Yes, it is still a great newspaper.

ALTIE KARPER:  And he did start a publishing operation there, and started the Schocken Institute, and created the Schocken Library by having all his books shipped there. He joined the board of Hebrew University. He jumped into the intellectual life in Palestine as soon as he got there.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  And then left.

ALTIE KARPER:  Yes. Interesting.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: He must have been a very practical man, as well, and he must have had a very good eye for the way political movements were going. So, he came to New York.

ALTIE KARPER:  He didn’t start Schocken Books until ’45, but he came here in 1940. He left a great par in Jerusalem: his eldest son Gershom, for one, and Gershom’s family; and the Schocken Archives, and the Schocken Library. He brought the rest of his family, and he did bring books. I remember that, during one of our moves, there were a lot of books in the basement at Random House, and some of them looked to be family property so we just put them in boxes and sent them to David Rome and Miriam Schocken. I’m sure he had a great personal library here which is now with the family.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  There’s now no official institutional relationship between the publishing branches?

ALTIE KARPER:  No, none. In fact, they pronounce it Schocken,  long o, and we pronounce it Schocken, short o, so there you go.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  But is there an informal relationship, at all? Do you publish any of the same titles, for instance?

ALTIE KARPER:  Not really. In fact,  when Arthur Samuelson was considering publishing Leah Rabin’s memoir a lot of publishers came and paid court to her and did their little song and dance, and then when Arthur was introduced to her as the publisher of Schocken, she went into this whole diatribe about Ha’aretz and how they didn’t do right by her husband, and going on and on, and he just said, “Sorry, wrong Schocken. Not us.”


Schocken in New York


KATHERINE McNAMARA:  So his son Gershom stayed in Palestine, to run the publishing company there, and Salman Schocken left for New York.

ALTIE KARPER:  He was on the board of directors of the Hebrew University and traveled widely for them, doing fund raising and public relations, which took him to the  United States in 1940. There might be in an article about this, though it’s not one that I’ve come across: he was such an ardent Zionist, and then, after having spent time in the United States, he decided that he’d rather live here. That, I’m sure, is a very interesting chapter.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: In 1945 he founded Schocken Books, the American publishing company. Again, with his own capitalization?


KATHERINE McNAMARA:  And he enlisted Hannah Arendt…

ALTIE KARPER:  …and Nahum Glatzer …

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  …who was his first editor-in-chief. Can you tell me anything about him – in fact, about that whole establishment?

ALTIE KARPER:  This is part of the establishment of German Jewish intellectual life in this country. There have been many fascinating books published about the contributions of German Jewish refugees intellectuals in the United States.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  The New School for Social Research had been organized on these shores.

ALTIE KARPER:  They were part of that world of performance and music and literature. They sought in some ways to recreate some of what they had in Germany on these shores.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  When he founded the American company, what did he mean to publish?

ALTIE KARPER:  Well, once again, he came here and saw an American Jewish society that was quite similar to the German Jewish society, educated and literary, but not as acquainted with their heritage and culture as they might be. He saw it as a similar opportunity here, now publishing in English instead of in German –  all the people he had published in Germany he could publish now in English – and acquainting American Jews with the works of great philosophers and great writers.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  And so, 1945 was the launch. Their first book was  about Mark Chagall.

ALTIE KARPERBURNING LIGHTS, by Bella Chagall, his wife.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  And it didn’t do well.

ALTIE KARPER:  I guess the world wasn’t ready for Chagall yet; but then the world caught up with us, and it then became a very successful book for Schocken in the ‘60s when it was relaunched.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Can you tell us about the beginnings of that new institution, Schocken Books? He capitalized the firm from his own fortune. How did it happen that he still had a fortune?

ALTIE KARPER:  Well, I think he had probably left early enough so that he was able to get his money out, in 1933.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  I suppose he would have had to sell his department stores?

ALTIE KARPER:  This is probably part of the historical record. The department stores were sold to non-Jews after Kristallnacht. I don’t know what kind of return he got on his investment, what he was able to do, but it was sold, so that might have been where some of his capitalization came from.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: Was he the sole investor, do you think?

ALTIE KARPER:  I don’t have any information about anybody else being involved in it. In contrast, we know that Helen and Kurt Wolff, who founded Pantheon were capitalized by a number of investors, and we know who most of them were. But there isn’t anything on the record about who might have been involved with Schocken, which leads me to think that perhaps there wasn’t, or we’d know who they were.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  The Wolffs came here ..

ALTIE KARPER:  Also in 1940-41; Pantheon was started in 1942. There’s an interesting synchronicity.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  They’d have known each other.

ALTIE KARPER:  Oh yes, they all knew each other. When I was looking through some old Pantheon files, I saw that they had a pub[lication] party for DR. ZHIVAGO , in 1959, and Salman Schocken and Alfred and Blanche Knopf  [of Alfred A. Knopf] and Bennett Cerf and Donald Klopfer [the founders of Random House] were on the list of people whom they were going to invite. That was one fascinating piece of onion-skin paper.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  In their first couple of years, how big was their list, whom did they publish? They published in translation?

ALTIE KARPER:  Yes, they did publish some German volumes, but mostly in translation and once again, that was when they published the Buber, TALES OF THE HASIDIM, and the works by Gershom Scholem, and works by Franz Rosenzweig, and Kafka, and Agnon. That, I think, was the core of the list.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  How big do you think the house was?

ALTIE KARPER:  They probably did about twenty books a year, I would think, based on what we see on the back list. Half of what they had done in Germany.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  By then, it wasn’t unusual for there to be a Jewish publishing house, but were they unique in concentrating on what they did?

ALTIE KARPER:  That’s an interesting question. I think “Judaica,” or books known as Judaica, became categorized as such in the 1950s when works by people like Isaac Bashevis Singer first appeared. I don’t think that there were books marketed as “Judaica” until the ‘50s, after the war.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Except that Schocken had already done this, but in a different way.

ALTIE KARPER:  Yes, and the Jewish Publication Society – butI mean by mainstream publishers like Viking and Simon & Schuster.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  But Viking was founded by Harold Guinzberg.

ALTIE KARPER:  Yes. But I don’t think that there was something that was consciously known as Judaica publishing until after the war. I worked at Viking in the early 1980s. When we were going through the old rejection files I saw a reader’s report for Isaac Bashevis Singer’s IN MY FATHER’S COURT. It was the funniest thing that I have ever seen, because the person who read it didn’t get what it was about, and couldn’t imagine who’d be interested in this, and then, in the last sentence, wrote, “And isn’t his older brother the more famous one anyway?” And he was, at the time! Israel Joshua Singer had been published in the United States before I.B. Singer. I don’t think people were aware of the market until they actually started publishing these books and saw that there were people who were interested in buying them.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  In a way, the readers were there before they were.

ALTIE KARPER:  Yes, exactly.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  How did that influence then what Schocken published in the ‘50s?

ALTIE KARPER:  I think that Schocken felt there were books that should be published that weren’t being brought out by secular houses, and that he was there to do that, as he had done in Germany.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  There was still enough capital?

ALTIE KARPER:  Apparently they were encountering financial difficulties, and it was at that point that they decided to expand the list beyond Judaica. That was where you see Schocken going into other fields, into the Montessori books, educational publishing, women’s studies, history and literary criticism, even some titles on yoga and natural living.

Also they had this idea: a number of the books we have as paperback backlist books were published by university presses. Schocken bought the rights, and then a whole course-adoption market came to be developed. In the ‘60s and ‘70s the Schocken list was perhaps thirty or forty percent Judaica, and the rest were books in other disciplines that were course-adoption books used by universities. It really depended on who was on staff there at the time. Books in the field of women’s studies and books about English literature were done then too. Between the Judaica volumes, which also were beginning to be adopted by universities – books by authors such as Cecil Roth, Elias Bickerman, Nahum Sarna, and Simon Wiesenthal – and books in other fields, they got by.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  How many people do you think they had on staff?

ALTIE KARPER:  They probably had three or four acquiring editors, I would say.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Salman Schocken was growing old.

ALTIE KARPER:  He died in 1959. Herzl Rome and Ted Schocken took over at that time.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Ted Schocken kept on through the 1970s.

ALTIE KARPER:  Right, until he died in 1975.


After the Schockens


KATHERINE McNAMARA:  By the decades, how did the Schocken list change?

ALTIE KARPER:  Interestingly enough, one of my college professors, Emile Capouya, was editorial director of Schocken very briefly, though I don’t know exactly when that was. I was looking through the Schocken files one day and I was astonished to see a contract for a book that had been signed up by him. I had him as an English professor at Baruch College in the late ‘70s; I think he was at Schocken before that. He was probably responsible for the literary works and the works of literary criticism that we have on our backlist.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Did Schocken have editors who were noted, in the way the well-known editors were noted?

ALTIE KARPER:  You mean editors like Pascal Covici and Maxwell Perkins? I guess the Schocken equivalents would be Hannah Arendt and Nahum Glatzer.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  It is worth noting when a family concern can bring in more family members and they go on. But then Schocken was sold to Random House.

ALTIE KARPER:  I think what happened was that after Ted Schocken died the heirs kept it going and had some success  at it, but then they started getting on in years, too, and decided that they didn’t quite have the energy and resources to keep it going on their own and they let the word out that they were interested in selling. A couple of publishers had expressed interest, André Schiffrin, at Pantheon, most particularly. Schocken was bought by Random House and placed under the direction of André Schiffrin, who was managing director of Pantheon, in 1987.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Random House had been bought by the Newhouse family.

ALTIE KARPER:  That was in 1980. When Random House bought Schocken, the Newhouse family already owned Random House. I don’t know how much was paid for Schocken; but I’m sure that André and Mr. [Robert] Bernstein [then president of Random House] had to get the approval of the Newhouses for it.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  During the ‘80s, did Schocken have a real identity, do you think, or was it in sort of a holding pattern?

ALTIE KARPER:  Schocken continued to publish terrific Judaica titles during that period – Susannah Heschel’s anthology ON BEING A JEWISH FEMINIST,  JEWISH MEDITATION by Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Rachel Biale’s WOMEN AND JEWISH LAW, Primo Levi’s THE PERIODIC TABLE, Hillel Halkin’s translation of Sholem Aleichem’s TEVYE THE DAIRYMAN AND THE RAILROAD STORIES, I NEVER SAW ANOTHER BUTTERFLY,  a collection of poems and artwork by children in the Terezin concentration camp, Elie Wiesel’s titles in paperback – those are the ones that spring most readily to mind. But there were two books that Schocken published in the 1980s, WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, by Harold S. Kushner, in 1981 and MASQUERADE, by Kit Williams, in 1980 that were phenomenally successful.


ALTIE KARPER:  This was a storybook that had imbedded in it clues to the location of an actual gold treasure. Whoever could figure out where the treasure was, would get it. It sold something like a half-million copies, as did WHEN BAD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, in its initial run.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  What happened, then, when the house became absorbed into Random House?

ALTIE KARPER:  Well, I think André was particularly interested in reinvigorating the Judaica part of the list. He looked at the backlist, and looked at what was in the hopper, and decided that Schocken should really be a premier publisher of Judaica, as was the founder’s original intention.

KATHERINE McNAMARA: What happened during the ‘90s?

ALTIE KARPER:  Bonny Fetterman was senior editor for Judaica at Schocken from 1983 to 1996. She had started at Schocken in the early ‘70s as an editorial assistant, and was so enamored of the kind of publishing that they did that she went off to get a masters degree in Judaic studies because she really wanted to do justice to the kind of publishing that Schocken did. After she had gotten her degree and spent some time atother publishing houses to learn her craft, she came back to Schocken about seven years before. Schocken was bought by Random House. She was really the primary acquirer and editor during the 1990s and brought to Schocken excellent books by authors such as David Ariel, Barry Holtz, David Hartman, Samuel Heilman, Joan Nathan, and Lucy Dawidowicz. Then Arthur Samuelson was named editorial director in 1993. He repackaged  and freshened up our core backlist titles, put new Kafka translations into the works, and published an excellent series of Jewish lifestyle books by Anita Diamant. He also brought Aharon Appelfeld to Schocken. One of his accomplishments was bringing out Everett Fox’s magnificent translation of the Bible, called THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES, which was as extraordinary publishing event.

One of my favorite titles on our backlist was a book edited by Bonny – a magnificent translation of SEFER HA-HAGGADAH, The Book of Legends, which  was originally published in Hebrew by Chaim Nachman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky in Odessa in 1907. SEFER HAGGADAH extracts from the Talmud stories related by the Rabbis who compiled the Talmud, their discussions of the Bible and the Midrash, and their moral and ethical teachings, as opposed to the parts of the Talmud that deal with the legal discussions and the legal backing-and-forthings, such as what happens if your ox gores my camel, and so on. Schocken commissioned a translation by William G. Braude, but unfortunately Braude died just after he completed his final draft in 1988. We published it in 1992. It has a superb index where you can look up “childhood” or “parenthood” or “rabbis and teachers” or “relations with Romans” and it will give you everything that’s in the Talmud on those subjects: aphorisms and stories and history and discussions between the rabbis on what is the best way to raise your child, and what kind of respect should be accorded to one’s parents, and how does one deal with the Romans when they’re sacking your country. It’s all of the wisdom of Talmud distilled into this amazing book. That was a work that we were really proud to publish.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Yes, I look at your list and see so many books there that are on my shelves When I lived away at college, probably in 1968-69, my parents sent me a copy of AMERIKA. So, one of the first books on my old bookshelf was a Schocken book.

ALTIE KARPER:  So many people tell me that. What Arthur and Bonny were doing throughout the ‘90s was keeping up the tradition of publishing classic Judaica, works of philosophy, fiction, non-fiction, of interest to people who were interested in Judaic culture.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  And so, is Schocken is able to continue on the basis of its own developed and alert readership.

ALTIE KARPER:  Oh yes. It’s amazing. All the Bubers and Scholems that we have on our backlist – we reprint them every year, there’s an interest in these titles which form the core of our publishing program, to which we of course add new titles. But the titles that we publish just don’t go out of date, they’re books for eternity, and the books that form the core of our backlist are books that were on the Schocken list ten years ago and twenty years ago and thirty years ago and forty years ago. It’s wonderful to see new generations who become acquainted with these books, and new professors assigning them to courses.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Arthur Samuelson and Bonny Fetterman both left.

ALTIE KARPER:  Yes. Bonny’s mother became ill and she left to take care of her in 1996. Arthur is married to Molly O’Neill, the food writer; she was planning a website that would focus on food and entertaining, and he left Schocken to become involved  in that, in the fall of 1999. When Bonny left, Arthur had hired an editor named Cecilia Cancellero, whose area of interest  was in women’s studies  and ethnic studies, to replace her, but Cecilia had a baby in the summer of 1999 and decided that she wanted to do freelance editing instead.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  And you were here. When did  you come?

ALTIE KARPER:  I was hired by André in 1989 to be the managing editor of Pantheon and Schocken. André had said, “I know that you’ve got this Judaic background” – I’m observant, and in addition to my yeshiva education, I spent some time in a post-graduate Jewish Studies program, and this is a passion of mine – “and if you ever come across anything that you’d like to sign up for Schocken, feel free.” But I was busy being managing editor. Then, ten years later, Arthur told me one day that he was going to tell Sonny [Mehta] that he was leaving. I said, “Well, you know, Arthur, he’s going to ask you to think about somebody to succeed you, so just give it some thought, and think about the people you’re leaving behind, and recommend somebody good, because I’m going to be working with this person, and we want Schocken to continue and thrive in your absence.” He kind of smiled and said “Oh, yes, I’ll recommend somebody good.” And they go off and they have their meeting, and then he comes back a couple of hours later. I said, “Well, how did it go? Did Sonny asked you for suggestions for a successor?” He said, “Oh, yes.” “Well, did you suggest anybody?” And he said, “Well, yes.” I said, “You don’t have to tell me if you don’t want to, that’s fine. Well, is it somebody good?” He said, “I think so.”

The next day I get a call from Sonny’s assistant saying that Sonny would like to have lunch with me, which is not a regular occurrence, he’s a very busy man, and I thought, “Uh oh!” He took me to a kosher Indian restaurant, so I knew this was serious, because both of us were going to be able to eat and to enjoy what we were eating. Somewhere around dessert  he said, “Why don’t you acquire books for Schocken?” I said, “Well, because I’ve been kind of busy and you never really asked me to, and I thought Arthur was doing a fine job.” He said, “Well, Arthur is not going to be here any more, so why don’t you start doing this? I think you’d be good at it.” I thought about it and figured that if the smartest guy in publishing thinks I should be signing up books for Schocken, I guess I ought to give it a try. SoI said, “Okay.”

I continue to be managing editor of Pantheon and Schocken, but I’ve got a little more help now with that side of it. And at the same time that I became a Schocken editor, Susan Ralston was named Schocken’s editorial director; she’s been a Knopf editor for many years and also has a Judaic background. She’s a great colleague and a terrific person to work with and to bounce ideas around with. Our mandate is to acquire the best Judaica, which is what we’re trying to do.

I’ve been lucky in that I’ve worked for fabulous people. That’s really how you learn about publishing: you apprentice yourself to someone who really knows what he or she is doing, and you learn by watching. At Viking I worked for Elisabeth Sifton. Then I worked  for Susan Hirschman at Greenwillow Books,  a children’s imprint which was at the time a division of William Morrow and is now part of HarperCollins. The lesson I learned from them is that you acquire what interests you, what you yourself would like to read. You don’t waste your time worrying about what you think they, out there want to read. Acquire what interests you, and if you have an instinct for this sort of thing, you’ll find that they’ll want to read it, too. That’s what I’ve been trying to do. It’s worked wonderfully well for Elisabeth; and for Susan, and of course it’s Sonny’s publishing philosophy as well. He’s said it on many occasions: “I just acquire books that I’d be interested in reading myself.” That’s what Susan Ralston and I do.


Acquiring books


KATHERINE McNAMARA:  What have you acquired since then?

ALTIE KARPER:  Ah! Well the first book that I acquired for Schocken was by Ari Goldman, a former New York Times reporter and currently a professor of journalism at Columbia University. He had published about ten years ago a book called THE SEARCH FOR GOD AT HARVARD, about his experience when taking a sabbatical from The Times as religion reporter and getting a divinity degree at Harvard, because he wanted to learn more about his beat – and, also, he thought that in learning more about other people’s religions, he’d learn more about his own. He wrote a book about spending a year in divinity school and what he learned and how he grew. It’s a good book, still in print in paperback,  and in paperback it was on the bestseller list for a couple of weeks. We’d been friends for years – I’d actually met him and his family at a hotel in the Catskills one Passover –and I’d been saying to him for years, “You’re going to do another book, you have to do it with me, you have to do it with Schocken.” And then around the time that this whole Schocken transition was happening, he called me up. I think he needed some sales figures. I said, “Okay, Ari, it’s time to do your next book.” He said, “Well, actually I do kind of have an idea for it.” We went out to lunch and he told me his idea for the book. On the day that he turned fifty, last September, his father died. He spent the last year saying Kaddish for his father, and this book would be his journey through that year. The best way to describe it, I think, is to describe what it isn’t:  It isn’t – I don’t know if you’re familiar with…


ALTIE KARPER:  Yes: it’s the mirror opposite of Leon Wieseltier’s book. His was the intellectual journey into saying Kaddish for your parent for a year. Ari’s book is the emotional and personal and spiritual journey into saying Kaddish. I think it’s a perfect complement to Leon Wieseltier’s book.. He’s in the middle of writing and is supposed to deliver it next fall. I’m so excited about this.

Another book that I’ve signed up is a book on the Chabad Lubavitch, the Lubavitch Chasiddim. This was a subject that I was always interested in reading about. They’re ubiquitous, and yet, with the Rebbe’s passing six years ago, one would have assumed they were going to disintegrate, because there was no head. There was no new Rebbe named after he died; but in fact they haven’t folded up and gone away. They’re even more vibrant than ever, and they have all these terrific emissaries in all corners of the world setting up houses and synagogues, conducting Passover seders in Nepal… It seemed a natural subject for a book because they have such an influence, even to the point of starting up non-sectarian drug treatment centers in Los Angeles. They have a program where, for the children who are victims of the Chernobyl nuclear disaster, they airlift these kids out and pay for their treatment in Israel. I thought, “Well, whom should I get to write it?” I opened Moment, a monthly magazine of Jewish concerns, and saw this terrific article on the Chabad Lubavitch by a writer named Sue Fishkopf. I thought, “My God!” and got her address and phone number. I called and said, “I really liked your article, and I think you’d make a terrific author for a book about them.” She said, “I was actually thinking the same thing.”

Just recently, I was reading in The Jewish Week an interview with Sid Caesar about his having received a lifetime achievement award from the National Foundation for Jewish Culture. The article was so warm and so affectionate, talking about his career and American Jewish comedy, that I called the reporter and said, “There’s a book here” – the history of American Jewish comedy, which has never been done. He said, “You know, I was thinking the same thing.”

It’s going to be a history of American Jewish comedy: the Marx brothers and George Burns and Jack Benny, Mel Brooks and Woody Allen and Sid Caesar, and Milton Berle, and Fanny Brice and Carl Reiner and Jackie Mason, all the way down to Jerry Seinfeld and Jon Stewart and Ben Stiller. It will be the history of all these extraordinary people and the evolution of American Jewish humor as it mirrors the twentieth century American Jewish immigrant experience. What did they think was funny in the 1920s and 1930s? What did Jewish comedians make jokes about then? How was that different from what Alan King or Henny Youngman made jokes about in the 1950s and 1960s? You know, as Jews became more comfortable in America, their humor changed: the subject of their humor, whom they were directing it to. It’s fascinating when you look at it from that context, and you see what Lenny Bruce and David Steinberg and Jerry Seinfeld make jokes about is really different from what George Burns and Jack Benny made jokes about, or Buddy Hackett, or Myron Cohen, or Totie Fields. It’s a fascinating way of looking at the American Jewish experience in the twentieth century in this country: through the prism of humor.

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Yes, that sounds interesting, because it’s not a history of, say, vaudeville, although it is that, also, perhaps, but is kind of an intellectual history.

ALTIE KARPER:  Or part of our cultural history; yes.


“I can’t think of anything I want to do more than work in publishing.”


KATHERINE McNAMARA: Would you tell me about your own interest in publishing and how you came into it?

ALTIE KARPER: I was an English major in college, because as long as I can remember I loved books and loved reading, and I loved writing about books, and I like talking about books. I grew up on the Lower East Side of Manhattan, and I started at Brooklyn College as an English major. At some point I thought, “Well, I can’t just be an English major for the rest of my life.” My cousin Daisy Maryles works at Publishers Weekly; she’s the executive editor there. My family was so worried about what I was going to do with my life, they said, “Maybe you could do something like what Daisy does.” I thought, “Hmmm.” I called up Daisy and we talked about what she does for the magazine. I went to the college library and  took out a book on the subject, Chandler Grannis’s WHAT HAPPENS IN BOOK PUBLISHING. Then I asked around about how one gets a job in publishing, and everyone told me that you really have to know how to type, which I didn’t know. I thought, “Well, I guess I had better learn how to do this.”

By then I was a junior and had pretty much finished up my requirements, but I just had electives, and I thought, “Why don’t I take typing?” But Brooklyn College didn’t offer typing – but Baruch did. So I spent my last year at Baruch College. That’s where I met Emile Capouya, who was formerly with Schocken – he was my thesis advisor. I took a couple of typing and shorthand courses, and that was really what got me my job. There were all these finely educated young women and men who’d taken the Radcliffe course and knew more about publishing than I did – but none of them could type worth a damn, and I could!

KATHERINE McNAMARA:  Where did you start?

ALTIE KARPER:  My very first job was at Plenum Press, a scientific and technical publishing house. I was assistant to the managing editor and worked for production editors. I learned copy editing, proofreading, and the whole production process. Then I went on to work for an editor who acquired  psychology textbooks. I could have stayed, moving into the acquiring end of things, but I was really interested in trade publishing, so I left Plenum and wound up at Viking. I was Elisabeth Sifton’s assistant and worked for her for four years. Then when she became Elisabeth Sifton Books at Viking, I was assistant editor for her imprint. And then – you know that period when you hit a certain age, and you think, “What do I really want to do with my life?” I hit that point. I left Viking. I thought, “Do I really want to stay in publishing? Do I want to go off and be a teacher” – because that was something that I had really thought about – “or do I want to go to law school” – my dad was a judge, and that was also in the back of my mind. So I went off for my year of what I call “retrenchment.” I spent a year out of publishing – I was working in public relations, actually – and I decided, “You know what? I can’t think of anything I want to do more than work in publishing. In what capacity I don’t know, but that’s what I really want to do.”

Then I got the job at Greenwillow. I was executive editor, working for Susan Hirschman. I fell in love with children’s publishing. But it just didn’t work outfor me there. After three years, I came to Pantheon/Schocken as managing editor. I liked it, and I still do, because you’re the liaison between the acquiring editor and production and design, and you work with the publicity, advertising, and sales and marketing people. Your job is to keep an eye on the whole, to make sure that it all flows seamlessly: This is when we get the manuscript, this is when they want the books to be in the warehouse: okay, how do we do this? That’s my job. It gives you a bird’s eye view of the publishing process. You see the manuscript come in, then you send it out for copy editing, and then you watch as the design is approved, the galleys come in, and then the jacket is created. You do this for the whole list. This is something I continue to enjoy doing. But when Sonny asked me if I wanted to get involved in acquiring books for Schocken, all of a sudden there was this click! and I said, “Oh, of course, why didn’t I think of that?” (laughter) It all just kind of fit into place.


End of Part 1.

In Vol. 5, No. 3, the editor talks with Susan Ralston,

and, in Vol. 5, No. 4, with Arthur Samuelson

about the history and future of Schocken Books.


 The series of conversations about Schocken Books is made possible by the
  Virginia Foundation for the Humanities and Public Policy.

See also:

A Conversation with Marion Boyars, Archipelago, Vol. 1 No. 3
A Conversation with Cornelia and Michael Bessie, Vol. 1 No. 4 and Vol. 2, No. 1
A Conversation with William Strachan
, Vol. 2, No. 4
A Conversation with Samuel H. Vaughan
, Vol. 3, No. 2
Reminiscence: Lee Goerner (1947-1995)
, Vol. 3, No. 3
A Conversation with Odile Hellier
, Vol. 4, No. 1
A Conversation with Calvin Reid about Electronic Publishing
, Vol. 4, No. 4




Authors and Books Mentioned (published by Schocken Books, unless otherwise noted):


S.Y. Agnon, DAYS OF AWE (ed.)




Robert Alter, THE INVENTION OF HEBREW PROSE (Univ. of Washington)

Aharon Appelfeld, THE CONVERSION




Hannah Arendt, MEN IN DARK TIMES (Harcourt Brace and World)



EICHMAN IN JERUSALEM: A Report on the Banality of Evil (The Viking Press); et alia

David S. Ariel, WHAT DO JEWS BELIEVE?: The Spiritual Foundations of Judaism

Walter Benjamin, ILLUMINATIONS



Chaim Nachman Bialik and Yehoshua Hana Ravnitzky, SEFER HA-HAGGADAH,

The Book of Legends, tr. William G. Braude


(and Moses Hadas, translator), THE MACCABEES, An Account of their History

from the Beginnings to the Fall of the House of the Hasmoneans



(with F.R.) DIE SCHRIFT DIE FUNF BÜCHEN DER WEISUNG (Berlin: Schocken Verlag, 1925)

(with Franz Rosenzweig) DIE SCHRIFT (Berlin: Schocken Verlag: 1936)





(with Karen Kushner) HOW TO BE A JEWISH PARENT

Everett Fox, tr., THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES: The Schocken Bible, Vol. 1,



(und Ludwig Strauss), SENDUNG UND SCHICKSAL: Aus dem Schrifttum des nachbiblischen

Judentums. (Berlin: Schocken, 1931)

(ed.) THE DIMENSIONS OF JOB: A Study and Selected Readings

(ed.) THE WAY OF RESPONSE: Martin Buber selections from his writings



Ari Goldman, THE SEARCH FOR GOD AT HARVARD (Times Books)

Chandler Grannis, WHAT HAPPENS IN BOOK PUBLISHING (Columbia Univ. Press)

David Hartman, CONFLICTING VISIONS: Spiritual Possibilities of Modern Israel


Susannah Heschel (ed.) ON BEING A JEWISH FEMINIST


FINDING OUR WAY: Jewish Texts and the Lives We Lead Today

Franz Kafka, AMERIKA

THE CASTLE tr. Mark Harmon

THE CASTLE tr. Willa and Edwin Muir

COMPLETE STORIES (ed. Nahum Glatzer)

THE DIARIES 1910-1923



THE TRIAL, tr. Breon Mitchell

THE TRIAL, tr. Willa and Edwin Muir




THE MIRROR MAKER (tr. Raymond Rosenthal)





Boris Pasternak, DR. ZHIVAGO (Knopf)

Leah Rabin, RABIN: OUR LIFE, HIS LEGACY (Putnam)

Franz Rosenzweig, ON JEWISH LEARNING

(with Eugene Rosenstock-Huessy) JUDAISM DESPITE CHRISTIANITY


Verlag Lambert Schneider)

ZUR JUDISCHEN ERZIEHUNG: Drei Sendschreiben. (Berlin: Schocken Verlag, 1937)

DIE SCHRIFT UND LUTHER (Verlag Lambert Schneider. Berlin. 1926)

(with Martin Buber) DIE SCHRIFT DIE FÜNF BUCHEN DER WEISUNG Berlin: Schocken, 1925)

(with M. B.) DIE SCHRIFT UND IHRE VERDEUTSCHUNG (Berlin: Schocken Verlag, 1936)













Isaac Bashevis Singer, IN MY FATHER’S COURT (Farrar, Straus& Giroux)

Israel Joshua Singer, THE BROTHERS ASHKENAZI. tr. from the Yddish by Maurice Samuel (Knopf)

Hana Volaková and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (eds.), I NEVER SAW ANOTHER BUTTERFLY:

Children’s Drawings and Poems from Terezin Concentration Camp, 1942-44.


















Simon Wiesenthal, THE SUNFLOWER

Leon Wieseltier, KADDISH (Knopf)

Kit Williams, MASQUERADE


Internet Links (selected):

Schocken Books


A List of Books Published by Schocken Verlag, Berlin, 1933-38


The Schocken Institute for Jewish Research of The Jewish Theological Seminary of America, housed in the Schocken Library building in Jerusalem, is a research institute dedicated to the exploration of Hebrew liturgical poetry. The Schocken Library Building is an architectural masterpiece. Upon his arrival in Israel in 1934, Salman Schocken, the publishing magnate, commissioned the German-Jewish expressionist architect, Erich Mendelssohn, to design a building for the purpose of housing the collection of books, manuscripts and incunabula that Schocken had brought with him from Berlin.”


Zalman Shocken, mécène et collectionneur


Salman Schocken’s Department Stores 


Erich Mendelsohn, Architect: Façade of Schocken Department Store, Chemnitz


Schocken Books Teachers Guide to THE FIVE BOOKS OF MOSES, tr. Edward Fox 


Anthony David Skinner, “Collecting Memory: Salman Schocken and the Jewish Renaissance,” National Foundation for Jewish Culture: Jewish Scholarship


A Kafka For The 21st Century by Arthur Samuelson, publisher, Schocken Books 


“On the occasion of the publication by Schocken Books of a new translation based on the restored text of The Castle, PEN … sponsored an evening of tribute, reflection, and re-examination of the work of Franz Kafka. The evening, directed by Tom Palumbo, took place on Thursday, took place on Thursday, March 26, 1998, 8:00 p.m. in The Town Hall, New York City.” Jewish Heritage Online Magazine broadcasts recordings of that evening. 


Sotheby’s Tel Aviv: auction of Judaica: “Manuscripts are among the oldest extant artifacts to have survived the often troubled history of the "people of the Book." This sale features several whose provenance is the renown Schocken collection, originally formed by Salman Schocken (1877-1959), the successful businessman and publisher who devoted much of his means to assembling one of the most important arrays of Hebrew books and manuscripts ever put together. In 1934, with the Nazi onslaught he managed to transfer his enormous library from Berlin to Jerusalem, where he reestablished his publishing company and became the owner of the country's prestigious Ha'aretz newspaper. Among the Schocken manuscripts on offer in this auction is a domestic item used at Passover, the Nuremberg Haggadah on parchment from Germany before 1449, richly illuminated in sepia by the itinerant German scribe and illustrator, Joel ben Simeon, sometimes called Feibush Ashkenazi. This completely preserved manuscript is of great importance and is one of the few remaining in private hands. (Est: $600,000-700,000) Another, on paper, filled with decorative amulets and charms, is a circa 1600 Miscellany of Magical Texts, Kabbala and Literature, written and illustrated in various hands, (Est: $12,000-14,000) while a fine 14th to 15th century example on parchment of a Pentateuch with accompanying commentaries in the margins comes from either Spain or Provence. (Est: $300,000-400,000)”


S.Y. Agnon: Agnon, Shmuel Yosef (1888-1970) 

“Agnon was the first Hebrew writer to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. One of the central figures in modern Hebrew fiction, his works deal with the conflict between traditional Jewish life and the modern world, and attempt to recapture the fading traditions of the European shtetl, or township.”

Also: http://www.jpost.com/Editions/2000/03/06/Tourism/Tourism.3630.html


Die Judenbuche” – verboten und eingestampft. Ein Beispiel nationalsozialistischer Zensurpraxis 


The Leo Baeck Institute for the Study of the History and Culture of German-Speaking Jewry


Kurt Wolff Archive  

The Helen Wolff Papers

“In 1942 Helen and Kurt Wolff, having fled Hitler's Germany, founded Pantheon Books, which published the Bollingen Series and such popular works as the American edition of Doctor Zhivago and Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea. When Random House acquired Pantheon Books in 1961, the Wolffs were invited to join Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, where they had their own imprint. After Kurt Wolff's untimely death in 1963, Helen Wolff continued with HBJ until her retirement, overseeing Helen and Kurt Wolff Books until her death in 1994.

“Helen Wolff's papers contain correspondence from the early 1950s through the late 1990s, financial records, readers' reports, and some manuscripts. These files reflect Helen Wolff's distinguished career as an international publisher based in New York and the friendships she formed with writers and colleagues. Among the correspondents represented in this archive are Joy Adamson, Hannah Arendt, W. H. Auden, Heimito von Doderer, Umberto Eco, Günter Grass, Arthur Koestler, Anne Lindberg, Konrad Lorenz, Ralph Manheim, Herbert Mitgang, and the family of Rudolf Serkin.

“The Helen Wolff papers join the Kurt Wolff archive, which has been part of the Yale Collection of German Literature since 1947.”



[1] “The People of the Book: Jews in German Publishing, 1871-1938,” n.d. New York: The Leo Baeck Institute, pp. 16-19. Information and quotations in this Introduction are taken from this source.


[2] Robert Alter, THE INVENTION OF HEBREW PROSE Modern Fiction and the Language of Realism (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988), p. 75.


[3] Anthony David Skinner, “Collecting Memory: Salman Schocken and the Jewish Renaissance,” National Foundation for Jewish Culture.


[4] After Kafka’s death [Max] Brod took it upon himself to have Kafka’s work published, so he had to convince publishers that Kafka’s work was worthy. One such publisher was Salman Schocken. Schocken was convinced by one of his editors that Kafka “could give meaning to the new [post WWI] reality that had befallen German Jewry and would demonstrate the central role of Jews in German culture…. Philosopher Martin Buber wrote to Brod that Kafka’s novels were “a great possession” and that they could “show how one can live marginally with complete integrity and without loss of background….” While Kafka did not actively represent the Jews, it was a part of himself that came out in his writing, just like his relationship with his father.” Arthur Sameuelson, “A Kafka for the 21st Century,” 


[5] “When the Nazis introduced their racial laws they exempted Schocken Verlag, a Jewish publisher, from the ban against publishing Jewish authors on condition that its books would be sold only to Jews.…

“Max Brod offered Schocken the world publishing rights to all of Kafka’s works. This offer was initially rejected by Lambert Schneider, Schocken Verlag’s editor in chief, who regarded Kafka’s work as outside his mandate to publish books that could reacquaint German Jewry with its distinguished heritage. He also doubted its public appeal. His employer also had his doubts about the marketability of six volumes of Kafka’s novels, stories, diaries, and letters, although he recognized their universal literary quality as well as their potential to undermine the official campaign to denigrate German Jewish culture. But he was urged by one of his editors, Moritz Spitzer, to see in Kafka a quintessentially ‘Jewish’ voice that could give meaning to the new reality that had befallen German Jewry and would demonstrate the central role of Jews in German culture. Accordingly, BEFORE THE LAW, an anthology drawn from Kafka’s diaries and short stories, appeared in 1934 in Schocken Verlag’s Bücherei series, a collection of books aimed to appeal to a popular audience, and was followed a year later – the year of the infamous Nuremburg Laws – by Kafka’s three novels. The Schocken editions were the first to give Kafka widespread distribution in Germany. Martin Buber, in a letter to Brod, praised these volumes as ‘a great possession’ that could ‘show how one can live marginally with complete integrity and without loss of background.’ (From THE LETTERS OF MARTIN BUBER [New York: Schocken Books, 1991], p. 431)

“Inevitably, many of the books Schocken sold ended up in non-Jewish hands, giving German readers – at home and in exile – their only access to one of the century’s greatest writers. Klaus Mann wrote in the exile journal Sammlung that ‘the collected works of Kafka, offered by the Schocken Verlag in Berlin, are the most noble and most significant publications that have come out of Germany.’ Praising Kafka’s books as ‘the epoch’s purest and most singular works of literature,’ he noted with astonishment that ‘this spiritual event has occurred within a splendid isolation, in a ghetto far from the German cultural ministry.’ Soon after this article appeared, the Nazi government put Kafka’s novels on its blacklist of ‘harmful and undesirable writings.’ Schocken moved his production to Prague, where he published Kafka’s diaries and letters. Interestingly, despite the ban on the novels, he was able to continue printing and distributing his earlier volume of Kafka’s short stories in Germany itself until the government closed down Schocken Verlag in 1939. The German occupation of Prague that same year put an end to Schocken’s operations in Europe.” Arthur Samuelson, op. cit. 


[6] “Originally … the Verlag had been organized as a division of the Schocken department store chain. This step may have been taken at first as a matter of administrative convenience, but it offered great fiscal advantages as well – advantages that were decisively important after 1933. As long as the Verlag was just another division of the concern, its profits and expenses were reckoned in with the whole. As it happened, the expenses of the Verlag far outweighed its receipts, and in effect the Verlag operated on the surplus funds produced by the profit-making divisions of the firm. Furthermore, despite nazi attacks on Jewish businesses, and on department stores in general, whatever their ownership. the Schocken firm continued to prosper.… Moreover, the diminution of the firm’s profits by the amount of the Verlag’s expenditures reduced it taxable surplus. To a certain extent, then, the Verlag ran at the expense of Nazi tax receipts….

“Nevertheless, these factors do not detract from the magnitude of Schocken’s personal generosity. The money that he assigned to the Verlag came out of his own income – or, what was the same, was never added to it. This consideration stands despite Nazi restrictions on capital export, since Schocken did continue to transfer funds abroad, and these were reduced by expenditures for the Verlag. Furthermore, Schocken’s financial basis in Germany was increasingly jeopardized, and he faced further drains on his capital in the future. Therefor, his outlay at this time was all the more striking in view of the fact that ordinary business sense would have dictated thrift.” Stephen M. Poppel, “Salman Schocken and the Schocken Verlag: A Jewish Publisher in Weimar and Nazi Germany,” Harvard Library Bulletin, Vol. XXI, Number 1, January 1973, p. 31.


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