Salman Schocken ("S" in Salman pronounced "Z") was the son of a Jewish shopkeeper in Posen. In 1901, he moved to Zwickau, a German town in southwest Saxony, to help manage a department store owned by his brother, Simon. Together they built up the business and established a chain of stores throughout Germany. In Chemnitz and Stuttgart, Schocken commissioned German Jewish architect Erich Mendelsohn to build branches of the Kaufhaus Schocken. By 1928 the Schocken chain was one of the largest in Europe. After his brother Simon's death in 1929, when his friend Franz Rosenzweig also died, Salman Schocken became sole owner of the chain.
In 1915, Schocken co-founded Zionist journal Der Jude (with Martin Buber). Schocken would support Buber financially, as well as other Jewish writers such as Gerschom Scholem and S.Y. Agnon. In 1930 he established the Schocken Institute for Research on Hebrew Poetry in Berlin, a research center intended to discover and publish manuscripts of medieval Jewish poetry. The inspiration for this project was his longstanding dream of finding a Jewish equivalent for the foundational literature of Germany, such as the German epic poem The Niebelungenlied. In 1931, he founded the publishing company Schocken Verlag, which printed books by German Jewish writers such as Franz Kafka and Walter Benjamin, making their work widely available; they also reprinted the Buber-Rosenzweig translation of the Bible. These initiatives earned him the nickname "the mystical merchant" from his friend Scholem.
In 1934 Schocken left Germany for Palestine. In Jerusalem, he built the Schocken Library, also designed by Erich Mendelsohn, was a board member of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, and bought the newspaper Haaretz for 23,000 pounds sterling in 1935. His eldest son, Gershom Schocken, became the chief editor in 1939 and held that position until his death in 1990. The Schocken family today has a 60% share of the newspaper. Salman Schocken also founded the Schocken Publishing House Ltd. and, in New York in 1945 with the aid of Hannah Arendt and Nahum Glatzer, opened another branch, Schocken Books. In 1987 Schocken Books became an imprint of the Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group at Random House, owned by widely diversified media corporation Bertelsmann, since 1998.