Station: [354] Childhood and Youth

Salman Schocken was an individualist, a unique figure. But where did this man come from? 

Salman was born on 30th October 1877 as one of ten children. Their father, Isaak Schocken, was a Jewish small-goods retailer and the family lived in Margonin, close to Posen in the east of the German empire. Salman went to primary school for four years and was then taught at the Jewish school of prayer where he learned to read the Torah and the prophets in Hebrew. His childhood was governed by East-Jewish tradition that in turn was shaped by cultural independence. 

When Salman was 14 his father sent him on a business apprenticeship and the young boy was disappointed that he had to learn to become a businessman because he was hungry for education and intellectual stimulation. 

From very early on, Salman had taken refuge in books and even read philosophical writngs he found in his father’s cupboard during his primary school years. As a teenager, he grappled with authors such as Wilhelm von Humboldt, John Stuart Mill and Friedrich Albert Lange. He bought his own books with some of his limited apprenticeship allowance, beginning with the cheap Reclam paperbacks. Spinoza, Kant, Schopenhauer and Lichtenberg were some of his reads, which nurtured his desire for self-sufficiency and independence.

Schocken completed his studies half-heartedly and took a job as merchant in Gnesen. Here a German-Jewish business elite formed and the town became a springboard for their journey into the west.

The young Salman embarked upon his journey three years later, which took him away from the familiar limits of the peaceful, leisurely province and into the shimmering, dynamic, lively metropolis of Berlin. Here, he felt he could still his yearning for education and distraction, got a post as textile wholesaler and attended lectures at the university alongside. The Café des Westens, or Cafe of the West where he eavesdropped the readings of an author named Else Lasker-Schüler was an important place for Salman, but at this point in time the Berlin intellectual and artists’ circles remained closed to him.  

Following a further temporary post in Leipzig his brother Simon got him to move to Zwickau in 1901.