In Battle for the German Mind: Evsei Shor, Rudolf Roeßler, and the Vita-Nova Publishing House

Wednesday, March 24, 2021 - 12:30pm to 1:45pm
Michael Wachtel

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.

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. Among his books are Russian Symbolism and Literary Tradition: Goethe, Novalis, and the Poetics of Vyacheslav Ivanov (University of Wisconsin Press, 1994), The Development of Russian Verse: Meter and its Meanings (Cambridge University Press, 1998), The Cambridge Introduction to Russian Poetry (Cambridge University Press, 2004), and A Commentary to Pushkin’s Lyric Poetry, 1826–1836 (University of Wisconsin Press, 2011). He has also edited numerous books of archival materials in German and Russian, including most recently (with Philip Gleissner), Vjačeslav Ivanov und seine deutschsprachigen Verleger: Eine Chronik in Briefen (Peter Lang Verlag, 2019). 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 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. His most recent book is A Russian Immigrant: Three Novellas. Shrayer's Of Politics and Pandemics: Songs of a Russian Immigrant is forthcoming.


Michael Wachtel (Princeton University)
Moderator: Maxim D. Shrayer (Boston College; Davis Center)

Cosponsored by the Davis Center for Russian and Eurasian Studies and the Center for Jewish Studies at Harvard University. The Project on Russian and Eurasian Jewry has been made possible with the generous support of Genesis Philanthropy Group.Genesis Philanthropy Group

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