Karl Jellinek

1894-1977

(click photo to enlarge)

Born in October 1894, Karl was the fourth child born to Berta and Siegmund Jellinek in Mistelbach, Niederösterreich, (Lower Austria), then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Karl volunteered in December 1914 for the Austrian army to seek “vengeance for Kishinev” [referring to the city in the Russian Empire in which a horrendous pogrom against Jews occurred in 1903]. He fought in the mountains on the Russian and Italian fronts, in battles against French forces and in the Spring offensive of 1918 which broke through the Italian lines. In March 1916, he suffered a shrapnel wound and was hospitalized. He returned to combat in September 1916. In June 1918, his trench caved in on him, ‘burying him alive.’ His nerves were shattered and he required another hospitalization until the world war ended. Karl received a Bronze medal for Courage.

Karl earned his Doctor of Law and Political Science degree at the University of Vienna in June 1922 and became a successful criminal defense lawyer. He said (many years later) that “My vocation was law in Vienna, but my avocation is Zionism.” Karl was a very ardent Zionist and popular leader from his youth. From his student days on, until the late 1930s, he was an active member and President(1923 - 27 and possibly longer) of the Jewish Zionist organization “Die Lese- und Redehalle jüdischer Hochschüler in Wien.” (The Reading and Speaking [Discussion] Club [academic association/fraternity] for Jewish [University] Students in Vienna). In 1925, he was this group’s proud delegate to the opening of Hebrew University on Mount Scopus, Jerusalem. In New York City, from 1939 on, he contributed money to Israel no matter how poor he was, founded and headed the IGUL (Alumni Association of Zionist Fraternities of Austrian Universities), and visited Israel several times, including as a Zionist Organization of America convention delegate. Near the end of his life, he said that he had the satisfaction that he had done his share in the rebirth of Israel. He said that Zionism had helped him “endure the humiliation and degradation of the other German students when [he] was the only Jewish student in Gymnasium” in his small Austrian town. I believe that Karl’s Zionism, leadership qualities, intelligence and ethical commitment helped him be especially alert and prepared to see the Nazi threat, and to take rescue action for his family and others.

On November 10, 1936, Karl eloped with Kreindel (aka Karla in that time/place), who had been his legal assistant and office manager. Kreindel was born in May 1910 in Stanislau, Galicia, Austria- Hungary, and came with her mother, Mathilde/Manzie, and her siblings, Anna Clara, Renee and Max, to join her father, Michael Eckstein, in Vienna in 1915.

Karl, Kreindel/Karla, and Michaela (their infant daughter) lived under Nazi rule from the time of the Anschluss in March 1938, until mid-February 1939. During that time, Kreindel/Karla used a great deal of courage, as well as charm and wile to protect Karl from Nazi arrest and imprisonment, and to retain their apartment in central Vienna until close to the time of their departure for the United States. Karl was outraged and embittered by the failure of the 32 nations who attended the Évian International Conference in July 1938 to open their doors to desperate persecuted Jews. Karl and Kreindel/Karla narrowly averted arrest on Kristallnacht, the night of their second wedding anniversary.

The following three fortunate events enabled Karl, Kreindel/Karla and Michaela to escape the Nazis: Rubin Eckstein, a paternal uncle of Kreindel’s, sent the requisite affidavits from America; Karl, Kreindel and Michaela were able to obtain US immigration visas within the Austrian quota, and the former colleague who took over Karl’s law office in Vienna secretly ‘compensated’ Karl with just enough money for the ship passage.1 Karl and his immediate family could have escaped to British Mandate Palestine with the “Verdienst Certificat” he had been awarded, but Caroline felt the US was safer for a family with a baby, and as Karl explained later: the ‘fire’ was burning -- and they ran from it (without being able to deliberate calmly and slowly) to safety.

Karl became an independent insurance broker in New York. Kreindel (who changed her name to Caroline in the United States) and Karl had a son, Bernhard, in October 1939. Tragically, Bernhard died of meningitis about a month short of his first birthday. Bernhard had contracted this virulent disease in the day nursery in which Karl and Caroline had been compelled to place him and Michaela while they both worked overtime to make ends meet.

Roberta was born in 1945, and Paulette (the present writer) was born in 1946. Karl’s enthusiastic piano playing by ear and sometimes teaching me to play Viennese marches, waltzes, Zionist and student songs were his only direct transmission of joyous, positive aspects of his pre-WWII Viennese and Zionist culture.

Kreindel/Caroline and Karl died in New York City within two months of each other in the fall of 1977, of stroke and heart failure respectively. We think that Karl’s heart failure on the night of November 21 was precipitated by his excitement after seeing the television images that evening of Anwar Sadat and Golda Meir’s hopeful Jerusalem proclamation of peace between Egypt and Israel.

1. See in Documents section: the “Letter from Karl Schreiner Confirming Takeover of Karl Jellinek’s Law Office - Vienna, November 1938”.

Letter Index for Karl Jellinek

 

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

Summary

Early July - Early August,
1938

Karl Jellinek

Karla/Kreindel E. Jellinek
                              [Vienna, Austria]

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

Karl warns Nadja of the dangers of close-minded and extreme views and of ‘in-fighting’ generally, in the “building up” of a Jewish state. Karl also writes that “Here in Vienna, it is not good, and I don’t think we can stay."

Karla (in the only extant letter from her to Nadja) similarly chides Nadja about her expression of negative prejudice against Jews from Poland, especially at that time of the burgeoning in-gathering of Jews from all over the world.

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.

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.)

Karl Jellinek
                     [New York City, USA]

Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger (sister of KJ)
Leopold (Poldi) Schlesinger (brother-in-law of KJ)

Siegmund Jellinek (father of KJ)
Berta S. Jellinek
(mother of KJ)

Siegfried Jellinek (brother of KJ)
Martha H. Jellinek
(sister-in-law of KJ)
                                   [Vienna, Austria]

Karl is still optimistic about the rescue of his family from Nazi-Austria and the family’s eventual reunion in New York. Details of marvelous amenities built-in and bargain purchases for his New York apartment, housework, Karl’s sending family members affidavits, resumed Zionist organization activities, visits from relatives, new friends, former Zionist fraternity brothers, and to his “sunchild” infant daughter.

September 2-5, 1939

(Est.)

Karl Jellinek
                     [New York City, USA]
Siegmund Jellinek (father of KJ)
Berta S. Jellinek (mother of KJ)
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
(sister of KJ)
                                   [Vienna, Austria]

Karl has read about the outbreak of war in the New York Times, but he maintains his hope for his family’s reunion in America. He is studying English and hopes to earn more money soon and be able to take better care of his second child. He chides Gisela for her inappropriate sentimentality during “this worldwide inferno.” Also, family news, including re: Max’s affidavit and Michaela’s good development.

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