Max Jellinek

1899 - ca. 1952

Max, the youngest of the six Jellinek siblings, was born in November 1899 in Mährisch Weisskirchen, in the Moravian Czech region of the Austrian Hungarian Empire. He finished university and began to teach school children by October 1920. From 1920-1931, Max wrote ‘teacher’ as his occupation on his required official Viennese registration forms (Meldezettels). In 1935, Max wrote ‘head of school’ and from 1935-39 ‘senior teacher’. Around 1934, Max was instrumental in founding the Hebraische Sprach-und Bibelschule of the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien, (Hebrew Language and Bible School of the Vienna Jewish Community) with the chief goal of preparing children for immigration to Palestine. Max directed this school in 1935 (as noted above), and taught Hebrew and Bible there. The school was housed along with other institutions that served the Vienna Jewish community’s educational/cultural and other ‘beneficial’ purposes in a donated building in Vienna’s 20th District. Branches of the N.S.D.S.A.P (Nazi Party) 'occupied/annexed' the building on March 16th, 1938, within only four days of the Anschluss (annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany).

Max also taught violin to private students and German to his niece, Gisella Nadja Jellinek.

Max escaped to Shanghai in late January 1939, but had a very hard time during his seven years there as a poverty-stricken, and often-times very sick and lonely, home-sick refugee. The heat and humidity of Shanghai led to his repeated bouts of dysentery. He was separated from his wife of about twelve years, Stella Pollak Jellinek, with whom he was having marital difficulties and who feared going to Shanghai. Stella managed with difficulty to escape to Palestine.

Max was robbed early on of all of his clothes except those on his back. Like many Central European Jewish emigrants in Shanghai, he relied on the Joint Distribution Committee for subsistence. In the work he eventually found as a radio reporter and newscaster, he was able to use his education, German language ability, intelligence and courage to provide information about what was really occurring in Europe. In Max’s letter of May 1946 to his brother, Karl, Max wrote that he "...gleaned the truth from the shortwave radio in the absence of the Japanese authorities" and he "...transmitted these truths in [his] reports by using various trick translations." Max also wrote in this letter about the risks that he took with his coded radio announcements and his pain at being accused, nevertheless, of being a Nazi and Japanese collaborator.

Finally, in the second half of 1946, Max and Stella were each able to immigrate to Sydney, Australia. They lived there together until Max’s death just a few years later, a broken man in his early fifties, demoralized by his persecution by the Nazis and the Japanese occupiers of Shanghai, and ultimately defeated by leukemia. Stella, born in 1900, lived in Sydney for about thirty-five more years, until her death in the late 1980s.

Letter Index for Max Jellinek


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


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.
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 for Gisela’s 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.

Max Jellinek
                             [Shanghai, China]
Siegmund and Berta S Jellinek (his parents of MJ)
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger (his sister of MJ)
Leopold (Poldi) Schlesinger (brother-in-law of MJ)
Siegfried Jellinek (brother of MJ)
Martha Hirschensohn Jellinek (sister-in-law of MJ)
Karl Jellinek (brother of MJ)
[New York City, USA]
Max writes of his struggle and angst regarding many issues. These include: his separation from his wife, Stella, getting out of Shanghai and to Mandate Palestine, his poor health, earning a living, the increasingly deteriorating living conditions in Shanghai, as well as his disorientiation and that of many other Viennese refugees. Towards the end, Max describes how much he misses his parents and wants their forgiveness and approval.
May 16, 1939
Max Jellinek
                            [Shanghai, China]

Karl and Kreindel/Karla E. Jellinek
(brother/sister-in-law of MJ)
                              [New York City, USA]
Max describes the poverty, hunger, unsanitary living conditions, illness, theft, fraud and official corruption in Shanghai. He despairs over the dim prospect of seeing his loved ones again, getting to British Mandate Palestine, and improving his economic situation or his health.

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