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In Battle for the German Mind: Evsei Shor, Rudolf Roeßler, and the Vita-Nova Publishing House
Though the names Evsei Shor and Rudolf Roeßler are known only to specialists (of the Russian emigration, anti-Nazi resistance, and international espionage), they were major cultural figures, and their voluminous correspondence is an unwavering testimony to humanist values during an inhuman era. A Russian Jew, Shor emigrated to Germany in 1923 as the secretary of the artist Wassily Kandinsky. He spent the years 1924–31 studying philosophy in Freiburg with Husserl and Heidegger and translating Russian émigré philosophers into German. In 1932, he moved to Berlin, where he befriended Roeßler, the protestant director of the German national theater organization (Bühnenvolksbund) and its publishing arm (the Bühnenvolksbundverlag) until it fell victim to the Nazis. In November 1933 Shor left Germany for Italy and, a year later, for Palestine, where he spent the last four decades of his life. (His papers, including the correspondence with Roeßler, ended up in Jerusalem’s Jewish National and University Library.) In April 1934 Roeßler emigrated to Switzerland to found the Vita Nova Verlag, an anti-Nazi publishing house, for which Shor served as sounding-board, advisor, and author. As the Nazi conquest of Europe progressed, the potential market for Roeßler’s books dried up, and he changed his primary field of activity from publishing to espionage, becoming the main conduit for transferring German military plans to the Soviets. Based primarily on their correspondence, the presentation will concern some of the Vita Nova’s attempts to break through the Nazi propaganda machine, including a multi-authored book on the dangers of anti-Semitism, several volumes of Nikolai Berdiaev’s philosophy, and Walter Benjamin’s Deutsche Menschen.

Mar 24, 2021 12:30 PM in Eastern Time (US and Canada)

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Michael Wachtel
@Princeton University
Michael Wachtel studied comparative literature at Yale University (B.A. 1982) and Harvard University (Ph.D. 1990), as well as at the University of Konstanz (West Germany, 1982–83, 1987–88) and at Moscow State University (1988–89). Since 1990 he has been teaching in the Slavic Department at Princeton University. His research focuses on Russian poetry and poetics and German-Russian cultural relations. At present Dr. Wachtel is at work on an annotated edition of the correspondence of Evsei Shor and Rudolf Roeßler and a biography of the poet Viacheslav Ivanov.
Maxim Shrayer
@Boston College; Davis Center
Maxim D. Shrayer, born and raised in Moscow, is a bilingual author, scholar and translator. A Professor of Russian, English, and Jewish Studies at Boston College, Shrayer serves as Director of the Project on Russian and Eurasian Jewry at Harvard’s Davis Center. Shrayer authored and edited over fifteen books in English and Russian, among them the internationally acclaimed memoirs Leaving Russia: A Jewish Story and Waiting for America: A Story of Emigration, the double biography Bunin and Nabokov: A History of Rivalry, the Holocaust study “I SAW IT,” and the travelogue With or without You. Shrayer edited and co-translated four books of fiction by his father, the Jewish-Russian writer David Shrayer-Petrov. Maxim D. Shrayer won a 2007 National Jewish Book Award, and in 2012 he received a Guggenheim Fellowship. Shrayer’s Voices of Jewish-Russian Literature was published in 2018. Shrayer's Of Politics and Pandemics: Songs of a Russian Immigrant is forthcoming.