Siegmund Alexander Jellinek

1857-1943

(click photo to enlarge)

Siegmund Alexander Jellinek was born in March 1857 in the small city of Kanitz, in the South Moravian, Czech region of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. He completed studies in a Rabbinical school in Prague and earned the high honorific title of Oberkantor (chief cantor). He also was well qualified to be a spiritual and prayer leader, life cycle event officiant and teacher of Hebrew and religion. Before WWI, he performed these roles in a large area of the Austro-Hungarian Empire between Vienna and Prague, but which had a thinly and widely dispersed Jewish population. Siegmund also counseled returning WWI veterans as a Seelensorger (pastoral psychological and spiritual counselor/chaplain). In 1919, he received a medal from the Austrian government for this counseling work, which he wore very proudly.

Siegmund’s long-lasting, final post as Oberkantor, spiritual leader, religion teacher, community registrar and officiant at life cycle events, including Mohel (a specially religiously and surgically trained circumciser), was in Oberhollabrunn (aka Hollabrunn), a town near Vienna. Mostly traditional Jews came from Oberhollabrunn and from the surrounding geographic area, to the ‘in-house’ Bethaus (small synagogue which was on one floor of Siegmund’s family’s home) on Jewish holidays, Holy Days and events such as weddings, ritual circumcisions and funerals.

Six months after the Anschluss, in late September 1938, Siegmund, the remaining members of his family and the approximately two hundred other Hollabrunner Jews were forcibly and hastily expelled by the Nazis. Siegmund took the register of the Jewish community with him to Vienna and managed to keep this critical list of identifying information secret from the Nazis for nearly six months. Ultimately, however, Nazi ‘crime’ investigators discovered the registry’s location. On March 7, 1939, a police officer entered Siegmund’s Vienna apartment and demanded the list. Under tremendous duress, Siegmund’s eldest daughter, Gisela, gave the register to the officer.1

Siegmund sang in a strong and expressive tenor voice. He blew the shofar for the last of many times and gave the last of many moving sermons on Yom Kippur, 1942 in Theresienstadt. This last time he tried to give hope, encouragement, and “strength to survive”2 to a large group of fellow prisoners in the courtyard of a former beer brewery inside this concentration camp and way station to Auschwitz. Siegmund, who had been in good health before his deportation from Vienna in August 1942, succumbed to enteritis just a few months after Yom Kippur, in January 1943.

 

1. In his book Ihr Müsst Hier Weg: die jüdische Gemeinde Hollabrunn von 1850 bis 1938 (You Must Go Away from Here: The Jewish Community in Hollabrunn 1850 - 1938), Alfred Fehringer describes the search for the ‘missing parish registers’ in greater detail.

2. Personal communication with Siegmund’s grand-nephew, Kurt Jellinek,who attended this High Holy Day service.

Letter Index for Siegmund Jellinek

 

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.
August 11, 1939

Siegmund Jellinek

Berta Schafer Jellinek
                            [Vienna, Austria]

Karl and Kreindel/Karla E. Jellinek
(son/daughter-in-law of SJ and BSJ)
                              [New York City, USA]

Siegmund and Berta are each reassured by news that Karl, his wife and daughter have settled into a new apartment. Siegmund prints the Hebrew letters of the blessing for affixing a mezzuzah and for expressing gratitude for having reached this moment of security. He expresses longing to be together again and hopes that “eventual overriding righteousness” will allow him to “live through these times.”

Berta adds her concerns for three of her other children: Max, Siegfried and Anna. She also encourages Karla, who is pregnant, and writes of Siegmund’s and her own good health and of her feeling warmly towards Karla’s mother.

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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