A literary gem researched over a year the author spent living in Berlin, Endpapers excavates the extraordinary histories of the author’s grandfather and father: the renowned publisher Kurt Wolff, dubbed “perhaps the twentieth century’s most discriminating publisher” by the New York Times Book Review, and his son Niko, who fought in the Wehrmacht during World War II before coming to America.
Kurt Wolff was born in Bonn into a highly cultured German-Jewish family, whose ancestors included converts to Christianity, among them Baron Moritz von Haber, whose desire to demand satisfaction in a duel sparked off bloody antisemitic riots. Always bookish, Kurt became a publisher at twenty-three, setting up his own firm and publishing Franz Kafka, Joseph Roth, Karl Kraus, and many other authors whose books would soon be burned by the Nazis. Fleeing Germany in 1933, a day after the Reichstag fire, Kurt and his second wife, Helen, sought refuge in France, Italy, and ultimately New York, where in a small Greenwich Village apartment they founded Pantheon Books. Pantheon would soon take its own place in literary history with the publication of Nobel laureate Boris Pasternak’s novel Doctor Zhivago, and as the conduit that brought major European works to the States. But Kurt’s taciturn son Niko, offspring of his first marriage to Elisabeth Merck, was left behind in Germany, where despite his Jewish heritage he served the Nazis on two fronts. As Alexander Wolff visits dusty archives and meets distant relatives, he discovers secrets that never made it to the land of fresh starts, including the connection between Hitler and the family pharmaceutical firm E. Merck, and the story of a half-brother Niko never knew.
With surprising revelations from never-before-published family letters, diaries, and photographs, Endpapers is a moving and intimate family story, weaving a literary tapestry of the perils, triumphs, and secrets of history and exile.
Praise for Endpapers:
“Wolff delivers a poignant portrait of his grandfather, Pantheon Books founder Kurt Wolff, and his own father, Niko Wolff . . . Wolff skillfully contextualizes his father and grandfather’s tales with military and political history . . . History buffs and literary enthusiasts will be rewarded.”—Publishers Weekly
“A powerfully told story of family, honor, love, and truth, by a masterful writer who sees across the oceans, through the generations, and beyond our immediate politics to share with us what is timeless and true in the immigrant’s journey. In Endpapers we see the Wolff family through war and love, detention camps and immigration hearings, feast and famine, kindness and betrayal, occupying a world equal parts Casablanca and Kafka. This engrossing and entertaining book takes us across the Atlantic and through the last century to reckon with the full, true story of a shared family past. It is a powerful book of conscience, of remembrance, of love and loss and new beginnings that never quite lose hold of the past. In a powerful and personal way this book reminds us that we are all connected. Endpapers tells the beautiful truth that so often those who contribute most to the culture and civic life of a place are the outcast and the refugee. It is a personal invocation of the power of citizenship, of what happens to a civilization when we fail our civic purpose and what becomes possible when we rise to it. The beautiful and haunting stories told in this book transcend policy and politics. An amazing and timely book, which is also a joy to read.”—Former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke of Texas
“Alexander Wolff—a writer of superb grace—traces a complex and compelling family history. His grandfather, the famous Kurt Wolff, was among the cultural titans of Germany in the early twentieth century, publishing the likes of Kafka, Joseph Roth, Karl Kraus and Heinrich Mann before moving, ultimately, to New York, where he established another major press. His own father (despite his Jewish roots) served in Hitler’s army before immigrating to the States. Determined to excavate his family’s often elusive past, Wolff moved to Berlin for a year with his wife and children. The result is this deeply absorbing narrative of high culture under threat, of political and moral violence, and the deep wish for what Wolff refers to as Heimkehr or ‘homecoming.’ Endpapers held me in its spell for days.”—Jay Parini, author of Borges and Me: An Encounter
“A stunning and brave book, deep and absorbing. I was enraptured by the story of Kurt, Niko, and Alex as they moved through the crosswinds of the twentieth century, from Munich to Princeton, and into the modern world.”—David Maraniss, author of A Good American Family: The Red Scare and My Father
“Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht, the two greatest émigré writers, both fled America. So did the greatest of émigré publishers, Kurt Wolff, universally regarded as the class act of his industry. In a compelling, frequently thrilling, and if you have an ear for the biting tone of Hitler’s exiles—often hilarious book, Alexander Wolff combines biography, memoir, and cultural history, rendering them indivisible, and making clear the uncanny and terrifying parallels between Kurt Wolff’s day and ours.”—Anthony Heilbut, author of Exiled in Paradise and Thomas Mann: Eros and Literature
“Meticulously researched and beautifully written, Endpapers, at its heart, is an absorbing family history. But it is so much more than that, it is a haunting exploration of guilt and responsibility, of roots and new beginnings. Filled with stunning literary details that any bibliophile will cherish, this is an intimate and complex portrait of a remarkable family that also tells a wider story of Europe and America in the twentieth century. Endpapers is a treasure—a brave and moving book.”—Ariana Neumann, author of When Time Stopped: A Memoir of My Father’s War and What Remains
“Remarkable lives in extraordinary times—a gripping and exceptional literary journey.”—Philippe Sands, author of The Ratline: Love, Lies and Justice on the Trail of a Nazi Fugitive
“An astonishing, compelling, confronting story of a divided family, reaching sharply into the present.”—Tim Bonyhady, author of Good Living Street: Portrait of a Patron Family, Vienna 1900
Praise for Alexander Wolff:
“A highly informed and fascinating look at the intersection of sports and politics that led me to unexpected realizations about Obama, the presidency, and the world of basketball. Smart and fun.”—Gerald Early, Merle Kling Professor of Modern Letters, Washington University in St. Louis, on The Audacity of Hoop
“In a class by itself.”—Huffington Post, on The Audacity of Hoop
“Wolff’s knack for finding fascinating people to interview goes far in humanizing basketball in a global context.”—Library Journal, on Big Game, Small World