It is thanks to the selfless help of the missionary organization Young Men Christian Association, headed by John Mott (future Nobel Peace Prize) that the YMCA-Press editions were able to see the light of day in 1921 in Prague, then in 1925 in Paris at 10, boulevard Montparnasse, with the mission of publishing the works of Russian thinkers and writers who had found themselves in Western Europe following the Revolution: Vasilij Zenkovsky, Nicolas Troubetskoï, Konstantin Motchulski, Simon Frank, Ivan Iljin, Nicolas Lossky, father Serge Bulgakov, Lev Karsavin, Nicolas Arseniev, Gueorgy Fedotov and many others… The philosopher Nicolas Berdiaev became with Paul Anderson, representative of the YMCA, and the philosopher Boris Vycheslavtsev the director of the YMCA editions- Press.
In the first decades of its existence, the YMCA-Press publishing house accompanied the extraordinary rise of Russian theology and religious thought in Paris, heir to the great Russian religious renaissance of the early 20th century. The YMCA-Press maintains in particular close links with the Saint-Serge Orthodox Theological Institute, also founded in Paris in 1925 at the instigation of Metropolitan Euloge and Father Serge Boulgakov, including a first book Les deux saint apostres Pierre et Jean in 1925 , fruit of the canon law courses given by Father Serge at the Russian Scientific Institute in Prague in 1923-24. The YMCA-Press editions subsequently published all the other works of Father Serge, as well as the works of many theologians and religious thinkers: Simon Frank, Father Basile Zenkovsky, Mother Marie Skobtsoff and in particular the works of the professors of the Institute. Saint Sergius, Lev Karsavine, Archimandrite Cyprien Kern, Georges Fedotov, Vladimir Iljin, father Georges Florovsky.
The YMCA-Press editions also welcome the works of exiled Russian writers such as Marc Aldanov, Nina Berberova, Ivan Bunin, Ivan Shemliov, Vladimir Khodassevich, Dmitri Merejkovsky, Alexis Remizov, Mikhail Ossorgin, Boris Zaitsev. To this must also be added many textbooks and technical manuals but also children's books. Between 1925 and 1940, YMCA-Press published 250 titles. Many artists, such as Rostislav Doboujinsji or Dmitri Steletski, author of the iconostasis and the frescoes of the Church of Saint Sergius, illustrate the covers of the books.
During the war, the YMCA-Press editions, in coordination with the Allies, published classic Russian literature (Gogol, Dostoyevsky, Lermontov, Tolstoy) intended for prisoners of war. Many Russian emigrants took part in the French Resistance, such as Boris Vildé, a member of the Musée des sciences de l'Homme network. Mother Marie Skobtsoff, after having hid many Jews in the Orthodox center in the rue de Lourmel and saved three children from Vel'd'Hiv, will be arrested with her son by the Gestapo. She died in the Ravensbrück camp, having taken the place of a Jewish woman destined for the gas chamber. Recognized as "righteous among the nations", she was canonized by the Orthodox Church in 2004.
Nikita Struve talks about the creation of the publishing house YMCA press and its distribution network, publishers reunited
A new page in the history of the publishing house opens in the 1960s, when YMCA-Press begins to publish authors banned or persecuted in the Soviet Union, whose works circulate in the form of samizdat (clandestine distribution in the USSR), then by tamizdat (publication abroad). During the Cold War years, YMCA-Press published the works of Anna Akhmatova, Varlam Chalamov, Nadezhda Mandelstam, Yuri Dombrovsky, Platonov (Tchevengur), Lydia Chukovskaya. Coeur de Chien, by Mikhaïl Bulgakov appeared for the first time in Paris, by YMCA-press editions in 1969, with a cover created by the artist Youri Annenkov, artist-painter who emigrated in 1924 to Paris, who produced many other covers for the publishing house. Mikhail Bulgakov's famous masterpiece Master and Margarita was also published by YMCA-Press in 1967, in its full version, without the cuts imposed by Soviet censorship, 20 years before the first full version published in the Soviet Union.
In 1971, Alexandre Solzhenitsyn, then behind the Iron Curtain, entrusted the publishing house YMCA-Press with the edition of his August 14, the first part of his monumental historical work La Roue Rouge. The manuscript is sent in great secrecy to the West, thanks to an "invisible", Assia Durova, employee of the French Embassy in Moscow. Satisfied with this first collaboration, Solzhenitsyn decided to entrust the YMCA-Press publishing house with the publication of the Gulag Archipelago, when the discovery of a manuscript copy of this work forced Solzhenitsyn to reveal it to the light of day. In the greatest secrecy, in the Bérezniak printing press, in the heart of Paris, Leonid Lifar composed the first volume of the work, the publication of which in January 1974 had the effect of a bomb. The 50,000 copies of the first edition quickly sold out, while the French translators were hard at work: the French edition would be published by Éditions du Seuil the same year in May. The collaboration between YMCA-Press editions continued until the writer's return to his country in 1994.
In the 1990s, as the Iron Curtain fell, YMCA-Press's editorial activity slowed down. Then began a period of transmission to Russia of the cultural heritage of Russian emigration. In 1990, the first YMCA-Press edition exhibition took place in Moscow, at the Library of Foreign Literature, whose director Ekaterina Guenieva was a disciple of Father Alexander Men. For the first time, the inhabitants of Moscow can openly learn about the history of the publishing house and even acquire the books, sent from Paris. Then it will be the turn of Kiev and Saint Petersburg. Thanks to the commitment and dynamism of the young vice-director of the Library of Foreign Literature Viktor Moskvine, YMCA-Press manages to anchor itself in post-Soviet Russia with the foundation of the Russian Way (Russki put ') and of the House of Russian Emigration (Dom russkogo zarubejia), which over the years has become a major center for the study of the cultural heritage of Russian emigration. In May 2019, a Museum of Russian Emigration was inaugurated there, which presents the history of Russian emigration through objects and archives, in a modern staging using the most recent technologies (touch screens, etc.)
In Paris, the Ymca-Press publishing house and the Les Editeurs Reunis bookstore, in the premises of which the Alexander Solzhenitsyn Russian Cultural Center operates, now intends to play a role of bridge between Russian and French cultures and promote Russian culture in a spirit of fidelity to the heritage of emigration.