A Passenger on the Philosophers’ Steamer

I am standing on the quay in the Polish city of Szczecin. The north wind from the Baltic Sea brings a thick gray drizzle that envelops the buildings and the port cranes, creating a sense of stagnant timelessness. A tugboat on the Oder River, almost hidden by the curtain of rain and turned into a fluid silhouette, gives a loud, long blast of its horn and vanishes in the fog. But the horn still sounds, an echo out of the past.  One hundred years ago this past fall, on September 30, 1922, a ship docked here. Szczecin was called Stettin then, and it belonged to Germany. The ship had come from Petrograd, the former St. Petersburg and future Leningrad: in terms of names, it came from a city that no longer exists to another city that no longer exists. The Oberbürgermeister Haken carried a group of scholars, public and political figures, and intellectuals expelled by the Bolsheviks; among them were the philosophers Nikolai Berdayev and Semyon Frank, Sergei Trubetskoi and Boris Vysheslavtsev. In mid-November another ship, the Preussen, arrived with a second group of deportees; others were sent out through Black Sea ports or by railroad, totaling around two hundred and fifty people, including family members. Expulsion: the strange grace of forced salvation, a gesture of absurd magnanimity on the part of the ogre. Those who remained were executed, such as the philosopher Gustav Shpet. Or they died in the Gulag, like the philosopher Lev Karsavin, a passenger on the Preussen who settled in Lithuania, which was later seized by the Soviets. But then, in the year of the Treaty of Rapallo, the Bolsheviks needed international recognition, needed a bit of a good reputation, and this gave the deportees a chance to survive.  During the 1980s, in the period of

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