(June 28, 1897 - January 6, 1958)
Marian Kister, who began his career as a publisher of books in Polish written in and translated from other languages and ended it with books in English mostly by Polish writers, is one of the honored names of Polish publishing. His publishing house, listed as Rój in Warsaw and Roy in New York, introduced more Polish writers on both sides of the ocean to American readers than any other publisher of his time. But few Americans know anything about him.
Exactly how he managed to transform the lives of many readers should not go unnoticed. He was born in Mosciska, now in a remote corner of Ukraine, 70 kilometers from Lwow, on June 28, 1897, and attended a gymnasium in nearby Sambor, where 4,900 of the 17,039 inhabitants in 1900 were Jews who were permitted to dwell in any place they chose since Zygmunt the First was king of Poland in 1519. In 1772, however, it became part of a new Austrian province, named Galicia, in the first partition of Poland. When Marian Kister was 17 years old, he joined the officers' school of the Austrian Army and was a sub-lieutenant when Russian troops seized parts of Austria. He was decorated for his part in defeating the Russian forces in Austria.
When Poland regained its independence after the First World War, Kister joined the Polish Army and fought the Russians until he was captured and released. He returned to Moscisko and finished the next step in his education. He then moved to Lwow, where he studied mathematics at the Jan Kazimierz University, and supported himself by tutoring other students, including Hanna Adolf, whom he married on July 12, 1922, while still in the Polish Army.
Shortly after the Polish Army seized the largest city and capital of Lithuania in 1922, Kister left the army and settled in Wilno, as the capitol was known in Polish. His interest in literature was nurtured by traveling booksellers and an inexhaustible supply of book shops in Wilno. He collected as many books as he could afford and for the first time, in 1923, he published a Polish translation of My Childhood, by Maxim Gorky, the pseudonym of a brilliant Russian writer. It attracted the attention of some booksellers who invited him to come to Warsaw.
In 1924, Marian and Hanna Kister started out in Warsaw with the Polish translation of a Jack London novel. The company grew as fast as books by Marcel Proust, Sigrid Undset, Thomas Mann, Aldous Huxley, Sinclair Lewis, Bertrand Russell, John Steinbeck and other well-known authors could be translated into Polish. They were stocked with about 70,000 books on September 1, 1939, when Hitler's troops invaded Poland, closed banks and other businesses, and turned off the lights. In time, Polish publishers were ordered to bring all their anti-Nazi books to Gestapo headquarters. The only book of its kind in the hands of the Kisters was apparently one by Hermann Rauschning.
As Rauschning's book, which used the word Holocaust for the first time, was packaged and delivered to the Gestapo, the Kisters gave a pushcart peddler a load of assorted books to find out if they could sell them on the streets of Warsaw without any trouble. The peddler came back for more books. Over the next eight months, Hanna Kister, her eldest daughter, and other women with pushcarts sold the rest of the books. No doubt at bargain prices!
Marian Kister, who had gone to England before the Nazis invaded Poland to sell books, would not return to Poland for fear of arrest. Somehow, in one way or another, Marian and Hanna Kister and their two daughters, Irena, 18, and Elizabeth, 9, reached Lisbon, Portugal, where they boarded a Portugese steamship, SS Carvalho Araujo, on March 22, 1941, and headed to New York. They were not able to start over again right away in the publishing field. With her command of four languages Hanna Kister got a job teaching school in Brooklyn. As soon as he could afford it, Marian Kister speculated on two books of poetry by modern Polish poets. He found them hard to sell.
Then Rulka Langer, who as Mary Rose Godlewski first came to the United States on a Kosciuszko Foundation scholarship in 1926 and secondly as the wife of a Polish diplomat in 1940, asked the Kisters to publish her personal experiences with the German bombers over Warsaw and her translation of Zofia Kossak's book on St. Francis Assisi. The first one, The Mermaid and the Messerschmitt, sold 5,000 copies. Hanna Kister was visiting book stores in Indianapolis, Indiana, when Marian called her from New York to let know that the Book of the Month Club had selected Kossak's Blessed Are the Meek for April 1944.
It meant that a year and a half after the Kisters arrived in New York Roy Publishers was on a solid footing. It grew by translations into English of young Polish writers. It is impossible to list here all the titles, but a sampling include Tales of the Tatras, by Kazimierz Przerwa Tetmajer, and drawings by Janina Konarska; The Forgotten Battlefield, by Kazimierz Wierzynski, and illustrations by Zdislaw Czermanski; Ascent to Heaven, by Adolf Rudnicki, and illustrations by Mieczyslaw Piotrowski; Songs, Dance, and Customs of Peasant Poland, by Sula Benet; Conrad and His Contemporaries, by J. H. Retinger, and illustrations by Feliks Topolski; Freedom and Civilization, by Bronislaw Malinowski; and A History of Poland, by Oskar Halecki (its ninth edition appeared in 1976).
Marian Kister died January 6, 1958, in his home at 30 East Seventy-fourth Street, New York, and was buried in Mount Auburn Cemetery, Cambridge, Massachusetts, as is his widow who died October 16, 1997, at 95 years of age. The beehive, symbol of their publishing firm, is engraved on their headstone. Their graves are surrounded by those of many American celebrities. On one side is Dorothea Dix, social reformer, and on the other are Julia Ward Howe, poet, author, and woman suffrage leader, and her husband, Dr. Samuel Gridley Howe, who found the first school for the blind in the United States.
From: Edward Pinkowski
Marian Kister -- publisher
Born: Mosciska, Poland - June 28, 1897 (son of Józef)
Died: New York, United States - January 6, 1958
Attended high school in Sambor; with the outbreak of World War I in 1914 he signed up for the officers' school of the Austrian Army.
Consequently became a sub-lieutenant, and was decorated for courage in action against the Russians.
With the Polish state re-established in 1918, he entered the Polish army and fought the Russians, he was captured then released. He finished high school and signed up at the Jan Kazimierz University in Lwow. He supported himself by tutoring in mathematics. Among his students was Hanna Silber whom he married on July 12, 1922, while on leave from the army.
He then left the army and settled in Wilnius - collected books (his long time passion), and started publishing books. His first book in 1923 was a Polish translation of "My Childhood" by Maxim Gorky. In 1924 he joined a group that organized the Rój publishing house. He published books by Melchior Wankowicz, Julian Tuwim, Wanda Wasilewska and other leading contemporary Polish writers.
Among the most popular titles were:
"Dzikuska" [Wild Woman] by Irena Zarzycka
"Kariera Nikodema Dyzmy" [The Career of Nikodem Dyzma] by Tadeusz Dolega-Mostowicz
"Ferdydurke" by Witold Gombrowicz
"Sanatorium pod Klepsydra" [Sanatorium under the Hourglass] by Bruno Szultz
He added a line of travel books which included the works of Canadian and American writers. He published, in translation, works by: Jack London, O. Henry, William John Locke, Pearl Buck, Erich Remarque, Hermann Hesse, and Upton Sinclair. A best selling translation was: "The Forthsythe Saga" by John Glasworthy.
He had two daughters: Rysia (Irene also called Reisa) who married Cesare Lombroso, and had his grandson Paulo; and Elizabeth.
He had his first heart attack in 1935. In 1938 his wife Hanna travelled to US - on the m/s Pilsudski to establish contacts with American publishers and participate in the world's fair in New York.
In August of 1939 Marian was in London and did not return home when World War II broke out. Hanna overcame difficulties to leave Poland and they were reunited in Paris on May 10, 1940
The family reached the United States in March 1941.
He started Roy publishers in New York.
Published Polish books in the US - in translation
first major release, Rulka Lenger "The Mermaid and the Messershmitt"
book of the month - Zofia Kossak "Blessed are the Meek"
Died on January 6, 1958 at 60 years of age, at his home on 30 East 74th Street , New York City. He was buried in Boston at Auburn Cemetery. The symbol of his publishing firm (a beehive) is engraved on his headstone.
Bibliography: "Pegazy na Kredytowej" a memoir by Hanna Kister; Panstwowy Instytut Wydawniczy, Warsaw, 1980.
(1898 - 1958)
Died on January 6, 1958 at 60 years of age, at his home on 30 East 74th Street [NYC]; founder and head of Roy Publishing in New York City.
In 1924 Mr. Kister joined the Roj Publishers in Warsaw which he developed into a leading publisher of works by young Polish authors and best-known Western writers, including Marcel Proust, Sigrid Undset, Thomas Mann, Aldous Huxley, Sinclair Lewis, Bertrand Russell and John Steinbeck.
Mr. Kister won the Silver Cross of the Polish Academy for his work. He left his native Poland in WWII re-establishing the company here as Roy Publishers. The company has published the works of many foreign authors in the United States.
He leaves his wife Hannia; two daughters, Mrs. Elizabeth Clark and Mrs. Reisa Lombroso; two sisters, Sophia and Eugenia; and three grandchildren.
From: New York Times Obituary, January 7, 1958