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Esther Simpson: The True Story of her Mission to Save Scholars from Hitler's Persecution

John Eidinow

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Biography: historical, political & military, History, Second World War, Feminism & feminist theory, Fascism & Nazism

The thousands of academic refugees Esther Simpson helped rescue are well remembered. But who was she and why has history forgotten her?

This is the story of Esther Simpson, a remarkable woman history has largely forgotten, but whose selfless actions left an indelible mark on the cultural and intellectual landscape of the modern world.

Esther Simpson - Tess to her friends - devoted her life to resettling academic refugees, whom she thought of as her family. By the end of her life, Tess could count among her 'children' sixteen Nobel Prize winners, eighteen Knights, seventy-four fellows of the Royal Society, thirty-four fellows of the British Academy.

From a humble upbringing in Leeds to Russian immigrant parents, Simpson took on secretarial roles that saw her move to London, then Vienna and finally Geneva. But when Hitler came to power she found her calling and joined the Academic Assistance Council for a salary that paid a third of what she was previously earning. Her work over more than five decades seeking refuge for many thousands of displaced academics had a profound impact on twentieth-century physics, philosophy, architecture, art history and molecular biology to name just a handful of disciplines.

For a woman who kept such regular correspondence with her refugee 'children' - as she called them - and who could count among her pen pals Albert Einstein and Ludwig Wittgenstein, surprisingly little is known of her private life. This book is a study of a forgotten woman: who she was, her impact upon the world and the historical context that helped shape her achievements.

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