Emery Reves (1904-1981)
Born Emery Revesz on September 16, 1904 at Bácsföldvár (then in Hungary and now Baĉko Gradište in Serbian province of Vojvodina), Emery exemplified the extraordinary lives of certain individuals born in the Jewish communities of central Europe. Raised by parents who were middle-class property owners, Reves demonstrated a mature appreciation for education and a strong work ethic. A brilliant student in Budapest, he moved to Berlin in 1922 and then continued his studies at the University of Zürich; there he obtained a doctorate in economics in 1926, writing on the economic theories of Walther Rathenau, the German politician and industrialist assassinated by a group of right wing terrorists. There, too, he wrote his first articles and conducted his first interviews with politicians.
By the 1930s and 40s, Reves had become an avid art collector, but twice his collections were seized by Nazi invaders and never recovered. He left Berlin on April 1, 1933, after the persecution of the Jews had begun and his apartment, with his collection of paintings, was vandalized. In an attempt to thwart extreme nationalism and its aggressive undertones, Reves started the press agency Cooperation Press Service in Paris, which presented the perspectives and concerns of different European countries within a single news agency.The Cooperation Press Service expanded quickly, translating and selling articles in three languages by politicians, diplomats, and famous writers. The subtitle of the agency was “Press Service for International Understanding.” His essays were translated and published in many newspapers throughout the world, not only contributing to the diffusion of ideas but also offering an economic model that prospered throughout the century. Among those who wrote for his agency were the French politician Paul Reynaud, the Italian anti-fascist statesman Count Carlo Sforza, the English mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell, and Albert Einstein. Beginning in 1935, he solicited articles from Winston Churchill. Their collaboration formally began in 1937 and resulted in a friendship that lasted until Churchill’s death in 1965, culminating in a series of extended stays that Churchill made at La Pausa.
Alongside his journalistic activities, Reves supported the publication of political works, of which the most famous was Fritz Thyssen’s I Paid Hitler, published during the war in 1941. Today historians point out that Reves himself authored significant parts of the book.
On February 24, 1940, Reves obtained British citizenship; in June 1940, fleeing the German troops, he left Paris for England. In doing so, he lost a valuable collection of seventeenth-century French furniture. Less than a year later, in February 1941, he set sail for New York, where he remained for a number of years, publishing first A Democratic Manifesto and then, in June 1945, The Anatomy of Peace, an anti-nationalist work that received unexpected support from Albert Einstein. In the immediate postwar period, it was a bestseller, with 800,000 copies printed in several different languages—an astounding number at that time. Throughout the war, Reves had been painfully aware of the appalling events transpiring in Europe; he lost his mother and many other family members to Nazi anti-Semitism in massacres or in extermination camps.
By his forties, Reves was extremely successful as a publisher, an author, and a worldwide authority on international affairs. Along with his work as a political thinker and journalist, Reves made a vast amount of money at the end of the war speculating on the European stock exchanges. In the postwar era, he built his last and most valuable art collection, returned to his literary activities, and became the main publisher of Churchill’s works outside Great Britain. The extent of their friendship and business dealings is well known from their correspondence, which was published in 1997. In these letters, we discover the essential role Emery Reves played in the composition of Churchill’s Memoirs of the Second World War. He continued to arrange translations, allowing the book to be distributed in even the most remote countries; his boundless admiration for the statesman and thinker, along with the outstanding international network he had built up since the early 1930s, decisively contributed to the publication’s overwhelming success.
Reves was a very accomplished man, a close friend to some of the most remarkable personalities of his time, but now he entered a more sedentary and reflective stage of his career. Although he continued to divide his time between Switzerland and France, Reves gradually withdrew from public life.
DMA gallery text, n.d.
Meslay, Olivier and Martha MacLeod. From Chanel to Reves (Dallas, Texas: Dallas Museum of Art, 2015), 24-25.