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

Many of the 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 woman whose dedication to the cause of freedom in science and learning 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, Simpson 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. Her ‘children’ made a major contribution to Allied victory in World War Two.

From a humble upbringing in Leeds to Russian immigrant parents, Simpson took on secretarial roles that saw her move to Paris, Vienna and Geneva. But when Hitler assumed power in 1933, she took a job in London at the Academic Assistance Council, newly set up to rescue displaced German scholars, and found her lifelong calling.

For a woman who befriended so many and such eminent ‘children’, surprisingly little is known of her. This book is a study of Esther Simpson: who she was and how she lived, what moved her to take up and never to relinquish her calling, her impact on the world, and the historical context that helped shape her achievements.

John Eidinow was educated at King's School, Worcester and at Gonville & Caius College, Cambridge where he read law. Between...