Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger

(a.k.a. Gisl, Gisa or Tante Mutti)

1885-1942

(click photo to enlarge)

Gisela, born in April 1885 in Mistelbach, Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, was the eldest of Siegmund and Berta S. Jellinek’s six children. Gisela’s sense and expectations of the world were affected by her growing up in that old Empire, as well as by the Jewish communal, spiritual and musical involvement of her father and both of her parents’ strong personalities.

Gisela was formally educated in a high level girl’s school (Heure Tochter). She enjoyed playing piano and particularly loved the music of Beethoven. While at school, Gisela came to know Marianne Robicek. Later Marianne, living in Yugoslavia, was the secret conduit for the letters to and from Palestine, Austria and Czechoslovakia (after the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia).

When Gisela was thirty-seven years old, she married forty-five-year-old Leopold (Poldi) Schlesinger, whom her niece, Gisella Nadja would later recall as “thoughtful, polite, dignified and competent.” They lived together in Stockerau ( in Lower Austria, between Hollabrunn, and Vienna), until their home and leather goods business were confiscated by the Nazis soon after the Anschluss. They moved into Gisela’s parents’ home/synagogue in Oberhollabrunn. Gisela took personal care of her elderly parents there and after September 1938, when they were all forcibly expelled to Vienna. She continued to struggle devotedly to care for her elderly parents as best she could. Gisela did not want to abandon her parents and was therefore extremely conflicted about the prospect of escaping without them. Gisela did not have any children of her own and was closely bonded to her nieces, especially the daughters of her brother Hugo, as is strongly evidenced in her letters.

Tragically, Gisela, her husband Leopold, and Mathilde Eckstein were deported from Vienna to Izbica, Poland on April 9, 1942. Mathilde was the mother of Gisela's sister-in-law, Kreindel. Gisela and Leopold had shared Mathilde's Vienna apartment in the year prior to their deportation. From Izbica (if Gisela, Leopold or Mathilde survived that far), they would have been transported to and murdered in the Belzec killing center.

 

Letter Index for Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger

 

Date
Author(s) / Origin of Letter
Recipient(s) / Relationship to Author(s) / Destination of Letter

Summary

Max Jellinek
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
Siegmund Jellinek
Berta Schafer Jellinek
              [Oberhollabrunn, Austria]

Gisella Nadja Jellinek (niece of MJ and GJS, granddaughter of SJ and BSJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]

Gisella Nadja’s Uncle Max and Aunt Gisela write brief, but strong, telling statements, such as “Everyone wants to leave but cannot.” Grandparents Siegmund and Berta wish Gisella Nadja God’s blessing and protection.
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
Karl Jellinek
                              [Vienna, Austria]

Hugo Jellinek (brother of GJS and KJ)
                                  [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]

Gisela, her husband, Poldi, their family members and neighbors are struggling with the Nazi regime’s anti-Jewish persecution, such as the forced, demeaning take-overs of their businesses and apartments. In her long, detailed letter, we mainly read of Gisela’s anguished responses to events, as well as her practical efforts to help her nieces, siblings, cousins and parents cope with the new harsh reality. Gisela also reports on her attempts to maintain some semblance of the old order and values, such as her intent to obtain her old piano for daily practice with her young niece Anna.

Karl’s shorter letter contains equally powerful, ominous signs concerning the “unsustainable” situation for him and relatives in Vienna. The significant good news in both of these letters is about Karl’s receipt of requisite affidavits from the USA, as well as a Merit Certificate for admission to Mandate Palestine, Gustav Jellinek and Miron Nadel’s emigration prospects, and the receipt of Gisella Nadja Jellinek’s letters from Mandate Palestine.
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
                      [Hollabrunn, Austria]

Hugo Jellinek (brother of GJS)
                                   [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]

Gisela reveals the toll of Nazi anti-Jewish persecution on the Jelinek family, their friends and neighbors. Some examples she reports are: the take-over of her husband Leopold’s business, the confiscation of every Jewish person’s home, including their own, in Stockerau and the need to support her young cousin, Willy Jellinek, who is imprisoned in Dachau. In addition, she, her husband, her parents and all Jewish residents of Hollabrunn are being forcibly expelled to Vienna. Gisela must prepare everything for her family’s rushed move, as well as help Hugo’s youngest daughter/her niece, Anna, move from Hollabrunn to Brünn to join Hugo.
October 18, 1938

Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger

Max Jellinek
                              [Vienna, Austria]

Gisella Nadja Jellinek (niece of GJS and MJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]

Gisela first gives mostly positive details about the family, such as the improved circumstances of her brother Hugo and Hugo’s younger daughters (Nadja’s father and sisters, resp.) in Brno, Czechoslovakia, Gisela’s brother Karl’s receipt of an affidavit and the satisfactory adjustment to living in an apartment in Vienna by Gisela’s parents as well as by herself. It is only in the second half of this letter that Gisela voices personal complaints at having had to move ‘three times already since March’ and about the ‘terrible’ most recent forced move out of Hollabrunn. Still, Gisela voices hope for an eventual family reunion and for the continued good health of everyone in the family. 

The overall adapting, coping and almost accepting tone and contents of this letter may reflect Gisela’s personal optimism and faith, as well as her lack of knowledge of and ability to grasp what the current persecution portended for even worse conditions to come. Gisela’s fear of the Nazi censors and her desire to shield Nadja from the entire dire truth may also have influenced her writing.

Max’s pithy greeting is one of encouragement and inspiration for Nadja and her comrades’ Zionist endeavors.

Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
                             [Vienna, Austria]

Hugo Jellinek (brother of GJS)
                                   [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]

Gisela urges Hugo to register for an “illegal transport” to Mandate Palestine to join his daughter, Gisella Nadja and “. . . bring us all to Palestine.” She gives him detailed advice on how to succeed in getting on the next boat, such as using their brother, Karl and other Zionist leaders as references, and stating that he has agricultural skills, as well as being musical and well educated. Gisela hopes for a reunion of the family in Palestine, — one that was tragically never to happen.

March 5, 1939
(Typed copy of Karl Jellinek’s speech delivered on board the Dutch ship “Veendam”)

 

Karl Jellinek
          [on ship to US from Holland]

(Probably typed by Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger)
                              [Vienna, Austria]


Theresa (Resl) Spitz (additional hand-written greetings)

                 [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]

Hugo Jellinek (brother of KJ)
Theresa (Resl) Spitz
(friend of HJ)
                        [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]


Gisella Nadja Jellinek (niece of KJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]

 

Karl Jellinek’s impassioned speech opening a Purim celebration held on board a ship to the US from Holland.  Karl expresses strong belief in the eventual rescue of all of his relatives and of all persecuted Jews in Europe, and in the need for unity and cooperation of all Jews in the building of the Jewish homeland in British Mandate Palestine. (Additional hand-written greetings added after text of speech by 'Resl' Spitz.)

Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
                              [Vienna, Austria]

Gisella Nadja Jellinek (niece of GJS)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]

Loving, worried, long letter, giving  personal news of herself, close family and friends, written over an almost two-month period. News of others’ departures/escapes, Gisela’s own optimistic start of English lessons, her sending of clothing and photo mementos. Expressions of despair: “Prisoners forever???”, “Why were we all ripped apart? This disaster will never be undone.”
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
                              [Vienna, Austria]

Anna Jellinek Nadel (sister of GJS)
                                [Sydney, Australia]

Gisela worrries over her father’s angry confrontational response to a Viennese office clerk who had disrespectfully addressed him. Gisela also writes of other family and indicative news, e.g., a) Jews now prohibited from entering the main park in Vienna; b) she and others taking baking classes to help prepare for their immigration.
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
Leopold Schlesinger
Martha H. Jellinek

                              [Vienna, Austria]
Karl Jellinek (brother of GJS, brother-in-law of LS and MHJ)
Kreindel/Karla E. Jellinek (sister-in-law of GJS, LS, and MHJ)
                                [New York City, USA]

Gisela is deeply conficted about escaping to the US with her husband, Leopold, and leaving her elderly parents behind in Vienna. Gisela also describes being weary of all the hard work involved in caring for her parents and keeping up with the family correspondence.

Leopold writes of the joy and gratitude he feels for the "redemptive" news of a forthcoming affidavit (and possibly, ship tickets) from Karl and Karla. Leopold continues his somewhat resigned, philiosophical and cryptic writing concerning his own emigration, as well as the emigration struggles and hopes of his brother, brothers and sisters-in-law, and members of Karla's family.

Martha H. Jellinek's hurried letter requests specific assistance from Karl regarding payment and receipt of ship tickets for her family's escape from Austria. Martha explains the urgency of having the ship tickets in her possession.

March 28, 1941
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
                              [Vienna, Austria]
Karl Jellinek (brother of GJS)
Kreindel/Karla E. Jellinek (sister-in-law of GJS)
                              [New York City, USA]
This letter shows how Gisela’s current life, that of her husband, Leopold, and of friends and relatives are preoccupied with emigration out of Nazi-ruled Austria. Amid reports of telegrams from the US and Lwów, and of visits to her parents, cousins, friends and an overcrowded temple, Gisela writes of her and Leopold’s upcoming medical examinations. One must pass the exam and also show possession of a ship ticket for emigration, in order to be granted a visa. Gisela demonstrates her awareness of Nazi censorship by her use of abbreviations and obscure references, but at this late time, she still seems to have hope and expectations of escape.
June 1-5, 1941
(Est.)
Berta Schafer Jellinek
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
Leopold Schlesinger
Siegmund Jellinek

                              [Vienna, Austria]
Hugo Jellinek
Fritzi Fränkel

                 [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]
Gisella Nadja Jellinek (granddaughter of BSJ and SJ, niece of GJS and LS, daughter of HJ, stepdaughter of FF)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]
Sad, final messages from each of the letter writers, including from Gisella Nadja's own father. Each close relative seems to try to reassure him/herself and Gisella Nadja of his/her fate and expresses love and yearning to be together again.

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