Hugo Jellinek

1888-1942

(click photo to enlarge)

Hugo was born in December 1888, in Mistelbach, Niederösterreich (Lower Austria), then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He was in his sixth semester of medical studies at the University of Vienna when World War I broke out. He enlisted in the Austrian army and volunteered to serve as a medic on the Northern front line.

He served until he was severely wounded by shellfire and was taken to a prison hospital in Samarkand, as a prisoner-of war. He fell in love with his nurse, Natasha (or Njura?) Kasalowskaja, and married her after he was freed in 1918. The couple lived in Tashkent, Uzbekistan, where they had three children together: Gisella Nadja, born in 1920; Berta (also referred to as Fuschi, Bertuschka and Bertl), born in 1922; and Anna, (also referred to as Anny, Putzi, Putzerl, Lussinka, Lussa, Annuschka and Annuschkerl), most likely born in 1923. Hugo worked for the Soviet government, utilizing his written knowledge of eight languages, and he also worked as a free-lance journalist. Natasha died of illness in 1926.

In 1930, Hugo managed to flee from the Soviet Union via Moscow, Warsaw and Brünn (Brno), and return to Austria with his three young daughters. Hugo lived in Vienna and in his parents’ house in Oberhollabrunn during 1930 – 1938, working again as a translator and as a free-lance journalist. His three daughters attended school and lived with their grandparents in Oberhollabrunn during most of that period.

Hugo was very well educated and interested in history, politics, literature and music as well as in medicine. He studied violin for one year in a music conservatory, and played the violin on the radio, as well as in the family informal chamber ‘musicales,’ in which he, Siegfried and Max played violin and Gisela and Karl played ‘four-hands’ piano. He also studied for one year in a Theological Seminary. He was a member of the Social Democratic party.

In the morning of June 6, 1938, his younger brother Karl got a call from a non-Jew, warning that the Nazis were looking for Hugo. Hugo fled on the 2 p.m. train from Vienna to Brünn, Czechoslovakia that same day. He bade farewell to his entire family at the train station, including to his 18-year old, eldest daughter, Gisella Nadja, who covertly departed for British Mandate Palestine that same day. Hugo never saw Nadja again, nor any other members of his family, except for his two younger daughters who joined him in Brünn later in 1938.

Hugo struggled psychologically and physically at first, as a poor Jewish refugee in Brünn. Soon however, he was buoyed by his relationship with Theresa (Resl) Spitz – and then by his burgeoning love for Fritzi Fränkel, to whom he was engaged in August, 1939 and whom he married in October 1939. Hugo was very attentive to the differences in the personalities of his three daughters and expressed much care and love for each of them. He was sensitive to the issue of his remarriage, and to his young daughters' having a new mother.

Hugo poured out his heart and mind in his long letters to his eldest daughter Nadja. He had not been in favor of Nadja’s going to live in Palestine because of the danger he perceived there, but in his letters from Brünn, he eventually wrote of his hopes and plans for himself, his new wife and two daughters to join Nadja in Palestine.

Tragically, instead, Hugo and Fritzi, along with daughters Berta and Anna, were deported on December 5, 1941, on “Transport K” from Brünn to Theresienstadt concentration camp, and from there on “Transport AAi”, on June 13, 1942, to their murders in Auschwitz.

 

Letter Index for Hugo Jellinek

 

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

Summary

July 26, 1938
Hugo Jellinek

                [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]

Gisella Nadja Jellinek (daughter of HJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]

In this earliest extant letter from Hugo to his eldest daughter, he writes lovingly and hopefully about their being spiritually “forever and inseparably connected,” and of his confidence in the entire family’s reunion in British Mandate Palestine by ca. 1940. Hugo tells his eldest daughter about the difficult housing, economic (and interpersonal) circumstances in Brünn with which he, his daughter, Berta, and other poor emigrés and refugees are coping. Despite these kinds of hardships, however, Hugo wishes the rest of his family could be with him in Brünn, rather than being subject to the frightening threats and persecution in Nazi-occupied Vienna. He notes that Willy, the son of Hugo’s first cousin, Oskar Jellinek, is imprisoned in Dachau, and that Oskar is virtuously trying to help and rescue Willy. Hugo shares his thoughts about the “…agonizing situation of the Jews,… ” the Jewish people’s failure to “… hear Herzl’s call 46 years ago… ” and the urgent current need for “… a country of our own… ” and a “… genius of a leader…” Hugo also writes about his daughter Berta’s job difficulties, his worry over her social life and over his daughter Anna’s plea to bring her to Brünn. Lastly, he writes about his inspiration from a new friend, Theresa Spitz, and his enjoyment of Friday night services at a local synagogue.
August 21, 1938 Hugo Jellinek
                  [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]
Gisella/Nadja Jellinek (daughter of HJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]
Hugo begins this long letter to his eighteen-year-old daughter, Nadja Gisella, with strong praise of her and loving birthday wishes. The remainder of the eight pages is mostly full of bitter, poignantly perceptive, prescient, political, intertwined with personal observations and predictions; e.g., a.) foretelling the doom of the Jews of Czechoslovakia if Hitler invaded the country successfully, b.) recognizing that many of the local Czech Jews were not aware that they were in the same imminent danger as the Jewish refugees from Austria, Germany and the Czech Sudeten region, and c.) being alert to both K. Henlein and J. Streicher’s powerful and dangerous influences. Only Hugo’s strongly expressed belief that the Czech nation would fight Hitler “to the last drop of blood” was tragically not borne out.

October 14, 1938

Hugo Jellinek
                  [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]
Gisella Nadja Jellinek (daughter of HJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]
Hugo expresses outrage and despair re: the disastrous betrayals and appeasement at the Munich Conference, and the ensuing brutal persecution of Jewish and non-Jewish Czechs in the ceded Sudeten region. Hugo strongly commends Nadja for her heroic part in the fight for freedom of British Mandate Palestine. He concludes this long letter with positive, personal family news, including praise of his new friend, Therese Spitz.
Hugo Jellinek
                  [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]

Gisella Nadja Jellinek (daughter of HJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]

Hugo shares prescient, mostly gloomy thoughts with his eldest daughter, writing that humans can be made into beasts much more easily than the other way around, and that Nazis are casually, and merrily “… robbing, burning murdering [and] fighting - …” just as the criminal band of outlaws did in Friedrich Schiller's 1781 play The Robbers. Hugo also worries about Czechoslovakia's new president, Dr. Hácha and about Czechoslovakia's granting of asylum and citizenship to Jewish refugees.

Hugo begs Gisella Nadja to write to her sixteen-year-old sister, Berta, detailing her life in Mandate Palestine and urging Berta to register with the Betar Zionist youth organization. Hugo also includes news of the good health and spirits of Gisella Nadja's two younger sisters, their kind and generous new friend, Teresa Spitz, and the robbing of a group of young Jewish Betar members on their way to Mandate Palestine.

Hugo Jellinek
                  [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]

Gisella Nadja Jellinek (his eldest daughter, b. 1920)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]

After expressing gratitude for 50th birthday greetings from Gisella Nadja and from other close family and special friends, Hugo bitterly predicts the further conquest of Czechoslovakia by the Nazis and their ability to “eliminate and strangle” the Jews in Europe, with the “applause and approval of the rest of the ‘civilized’ world.” Hugo denounces the Nazi “beasts in human form,” who, after taking over Sudentenland a few months earlier, had begun to oppress and frighten all Czech Jews. He also condemns the betrayal by Jewish communists and other “assimilation-socialists” against their own (Jewish) people. He extols members of the Zionist group Betar, (of which Gisella Nadja was an active member) for their great courage, organization and discipline as they fight for an independent Jewish homeland in [British Mandate] Palestine. Lastly, Hugo praises and provides some news about Bertha and Anna, his younger daughters, whom he still believes will be able to get to Palestine.

Hugo Jellinek
Fritzi Fränkel
                  [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]
Gisella Nadja Jellinek (daughter of HJ,
future stepdaughter of FF)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]
Hugo expresses great admiration and burgeoning love for Fritzi Fränkel, but anger and pain re: Brünn’s recent occupation by the Nazis, and the change in his personal situation from distinguished, brave WWI Austrian soldier, who impartially helped all of his fellow soldiers, to persecuted and reviled Jew. Also, details of Hugo’s as well as Berta and Anna’s daily life in Brünn, and Fritizi expresses warm interest in Gisella Nadja.
Hugo Jellinek
                  [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]
Gisella Nadja Jellinek (daughter of HJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]
Praise for Gisella Nadja’s and other Betar group members’ ongoing heroic work to build a Jewish homeland, contrasted with European Jewry’s humiliated status as “unwilling martyrs.” Positive personal news including Hugo’s deepening relationship with Fritzi Fränkel, and fatherly pride in Berta and Anna’s work and well-being.
January 31, 1940
Hugo Jellinek
[Brünn, Czechoslovakia]
Short greetings added by
Fritzi Fränkel (Hugo’s new wife)
Aunt Else (may be Hugo’s cousin or aunt, unknown to us)
Heinz Rosenzweig (Fritzi’s nephew)
Anna Jellinek (aka Putzi and Lussinka)
                [Brünn, Czechoslovakia]
Siegmund Jellinek (father of HJ, father-in-law of FF, grandfather of AJ)
Berta Schafer Jellinek (mother of HJ, mother-in-law of FF, grandmother of AJ)
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger (sister of HJ, sister-in-law of FF, aunt of AJ)
Leopold (aka Poldi) Schlesinger (brother-in-law of HJ, and FF, uncle of AJ)
                                [Vienna, Austria]
This is the sole, extant example of Hugo’s writing as a son, rather than as a father. Though limited in writing space, this postcard still shows a son’s challenging his father’s judgement as well as seeming to desire his father’s approbation. Hugo reports on family problems, as well as praiseworthy characteristics of his youngest daughter, Anna/Lussinka and of Heinz, his new nephew by his marriage to Fritizi. All of the above, combined with Hugo’s coded, cryptic and metaphoric references, e.g., “Bolavan,” “appropriate season,” also reveal Hugo’s current bitter political understanding, as well as his strained and constrained life as a Jewish refugee under Nazi rule.
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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