October 7, 1939

Author(s) / Origin of Letter
Recipient(s) / Relationship to Author(s) / Destination of Letter
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
Martha H. Jellinek
[Vienna, Austria]

Karl Jellinek (brother of GJS and brother-in-law of MHJ)
[New York City, USA]

Gisela’s letter describes how she and the Jellinek family members still in Vienna are continuing to cope with the increasingly difficult circumstances, including: the struggle to live with the Nazi’s anti-Jewish persecutory measures and deprivations, as well as the efforts required to overcome all of the barriers to emigration, such as securing affidavits and the money for ship tickets.
The opening lines beseeching Karl to write to her, show the importance that correspondence with her siblings and nieces has for Gisela. Gisela’s concern with relatives continues throughout the letter, e.g., her passing on to Karl, news of their brother Hugo’s forthcoming wedding.


Vienna, October 7, 1939

My beloved brother Karl  !

I waited for today’s mail in hopes that today a letter from you would finally arrive, especially since we received a very nice letter from Mitzi Fass []friend] yesterday, full of concern for us, mailed on September 7. All of our acquaintances who have relatives in the U.S.A. have gotten lots of mail from them in the past two weeks. The mailman even told me that he delivered several hundred letters in the past weeks. Only our mailbox is empty, and we are full of worries about you. Two weeks ago, Irma Morberger’s sister [Irma and her sisters, Frieda, Elsa and Gabriella, were Gisela and Karl’s first cousins] received a letter from Irma, mailed on September 4. Thank goodness, it included the information that she had been to see you, which calmed us, but was far too little to quench our thirst for news. I still hope to get a letter from you today. I am also going to write to Ma[x]l [brother, Max J. ‐ then in Shanghai] today, since he will be celebrating his 40th birthday on November 3; unfortunately, he will be abroad and all alone.—We will all write to him today. Fortunately, mail service there works well; it is a bit slow, but does arrive. Only an airmail letter, dated August 28, unfortunately did not reach him.

Last evening, we received a letter from Hugo [brother, Hugo J.‐ then in Brünn] in which he informed us that his wedding will take place on October 22 in the only remaining little temple in Brünn. Since he did not get the death certificate of his late wife from Tashkent, it was adequate that his two daughters went to the notary public with the lawyer and testified that they were present at their mother’s funeral. Hugo has apparently, touch wood, taken his great loss well. However, he is bothered by constant headaches since his “accident,” and these make him very nervous.1 A week after the wedding, with God’s help, he will have an operation and his wife will nurse him back to health. She has already fed him so well that he weighs nearly 69 kg.2 They are still living very well there, and will send Mother a birthday package containing costly coffee, tea, cocoa, lemons, etc. Hopefully, it will all arrive in good shape. He and dear Fritzi have just one wish: that a member of the family can attend their wedding. He thinks that such a visit can be arranged. He suggests that Father should refer to the fact that at the time [World War I] he [Hugo] volunteered for active military service as a physician and fought for his people and homeland.3 We are hoping that this will have the desired result. I am just waiting to receive the formal invitation, so I can attach a photocopy of it to the application. I will put the application together nicely, so it will assure the desired result. It might actually be better if Sigl [brother, Siegfried J.‐then still in Vienna] were to take the trip, as he has a passport, while Father would have to apply for one, which will not be possible given the time constraints.

Please forward all of my letters to dear Anny, [sister, Anna J. N. ‐ then in Sydney, Australia] and greet and kiss her for me. Please tell her that all are well, especially regarding the dear parents, and that they still have all their faculties, thank God. If news would come from you and Anny, they would be quite content. I work alone for all of us all day, and am unfortunately rather nervous because I spend so much time shopping and can’t ask Father [to do this] under the present circumstances. I have resumed my interrupted English lessons, but have lost all enthusiasm and am also so pressed for time, now that the days are already significantly shorter. Also, all of us must spend the evenings in one room at the parents’ place. We have to do that to save money. We have also darkened the kitchen, but it is beginning to be too cold there because of the stone floor. For once, I have time to write today because I cooked ahead yesterday and am only allowed to go shopping at 11 o’clock. Besides you, I also have to write to Maxl, Hugo and my Annushka [Anna J. ‐ Hugo’s youngest daughter] and Mitzi Fass. This is now my only pleasure. Did you receive my last letter, which I wrote with the “Rex”?4 Today, I read that Italian steamers will be going to America on a regular schedule now. I am greatly reassured by that because I hope at least to be able to stay in regular correspondence with you and Maxl. The paper also mentioned that ships will go to Australia from Trieste, i.e. Genoa, on a regular basis. But I don’t know how I can get letters to Trieste. However, Dr. Gustl Schafer is there, too, and Ludwig will certainly give me an “Etze” [advice5]. —

In regard to today’s enclosures, I am informing you that Poldl [Leopold, Gisela’s husband6] found the letter from Shapira in the street. The letter says that he is sending affidavits to someone. Perhaps he is a great benefactor who would also look

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after us or Sigl. ‐ As regards the note with addresses written by me. I received these addresses from the Austrian consulate in New York some time ago in response to my request. The crossed‐out lines indicate that I wrote to those people at the time. I did not receive an answer, and now I can’t tell from the date, in which year I wrote to them. This Mr. Zitrin is Rudolph Bauer’s brother‐in‐law and is said to be very rich. I just noticed that Rudolph Bauer is involved in the Paul Tausig and Son banking business, or is possibly even a partner with Zirin. Perhaps you can get somewhere with this. The third letter arrived shortly after you emigrated. I am sending it to you because of the address. It seems to be meaningless, but perhaps this address can be useful as a source for affidavits. ‐ ‐ Continuation: ‐ ‐ Saturday afternoon, 4 o’clock—Only now have I finished with the kitchen and the shopping. I am always afraid that something will be missing. I was so accustomed to Stockerau, of blessed memory, where one could shop until 10 o’clock on Sunday mornings.7 Mr. Feiwel has been here several times. He has also not heard from his son in several weeks and is very worried. Both of them visit us frequently. Can you tell Mr. Feiwel that he should write to his parents and have the letters come to you, because Mr. Feivel is afraid that Mrs. Feiwel is not giving her husband the letters.8 — Max happily wrote that he finally got a detailed letter from you, including the announcement of an affidavit. Unfortunately, I have heard that the Czech quota has been set back by three quarters of a year, but I am not yet sure if that is really so.9 In the German quota, they have already reached August 31, therefore Sigl’s turn could already be reached, because he is registered as of August 12. Actually, however, they can’t go now because there is no way that they could get the fare in dollars. The family Neumann has received the tickets from their children; that’s quite a different situation.

Did you like the cigarettes? In a total of 300 years, such good ones will never be manufactured again. Enjoy them! You are more than welcome to them, they were sent with all my heart. A card from Putzerle [Anna J. ‐ Hugo’s daughter] just arrived: she is sending me some extraordinarily good tea. That is worth more than gold here; and I have gotten accustomed to drinking tea, as has Poldl. The dear parents, however, can’t get used to that; they stay with their little cups of coffee. Father, however, is content with the second brew of Mother’s good coffee. I am now awaiting a great miracle, like those about which we learned in school long ago. I have only enough coffee for two more brews for Mother, and I hope that it will miraculously be enough for months. To translate that into everyday language: I have written to Hugo, and he will send Mother a birthday present of good Brünner coffee and cocoa. That is more valuable than a platinum bracelet. I watch over these treasures like Cerberus,10 and only the coffee addict, Sigl, gets his coffee every afternoon. He is really not very spoiled, because even your coffee, which I always considered very weak, tastes good to him. Where are the lovely times with the delightful afternoon coffee hours at which everything that crawled or flew was supplied with coffee by you? Dr. Eigner, Dr. Fass, etc., etc.

I was very pleased with Mitzi’s letter, and am enclosing it. Please forward it. [to other family members]. One has to save on postage. I hope I am not doing anything to upset the postal service. ‐ Unfortunately, we no longer have a radio, and my beloved spinet went the same route on Simchat Torah. I wept bitter tears, as my last pleasure is gone. I actually had very little time to play, but when I was in a totally inconsolable mood, I would sit down and take out my beloved Beethoven. After playing a lovely sonata, I would feel noticeably calmer. Poldl comforted me sweetly, and promised to get me a new one in better times.11

I am sitting by the window, and the street is so cheerful. Flags are fluttering every‐where, and all of the stores are beautifully decorated.‐ ‐ 12 Tiefenbrunn and Bertisch are together with Willy now.13 We have not had any news from the latter for the past five weeks.— Oskar has repeatedly sent telegrams and made telephone calls, but everything has already happened, and things cannot be prevented now.14 It is getting cold in the apartment now, and I dread to think of winter with its everlasting cold, and Mother and the poorly functioning heaters in our very large apartment. We will all perch in one room, but I will also turn on the oven in the kitchen frequently. Then Mother is warm and has company, too. She doesn’t want to be alone for a moment. Thank God, the dear parents are as stylish and fresh as ever, and we pray that the good Lord will keep them so mentally alert for us for a long time. I still harbor the hope that we will all come together and will tell each other everything in joy.15 Amen. 1000 kisses, heartfelt good wishes again, your Gisa

Addendum by Martha H. Jellinek, handwritten upside‐down, at the bottom of pages 1 and 2.:

Dearest Karl,
Have you received the letter with addresses yet? These people are very rich, and would undoubtedly send the tickets for travel, too. Please take care of this matter. Friedl, [another nickname for Siegfried J., Martha’s husband and Gisela and Karl’s brother] is no longer [working] in the Palestine [Immigration] Office and we are all very concerned.16 How are you? Has Karla given birth yet? Please write us all the details, and do not forget us.
With many kisses, Martha

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Translated by Esther Bates; footnotes and some edits by P. Jellinek.


1. We do not know to which ‘great loss’ and “accident” Gisela is referring here; but she could be referring to any of the following that Hugo wrote about in his letters between July 26,1938 and June 12, 1939: the 200 ‐ 250 Czech crowns stolen from Hugo when he was crossing into Czechoslovakia, his break‐up with Teresa Spitz, his loss of status as a poor Jewish refugee in Brünn, or the loss of faith in the strength of the soldiers and ordinary citizens of Czechoslovakia, whom Hugo had believed would victoriously fight and resist the Nazi invaders/occupiers. In any case, Gisela’s use of quotation marks around “accident” and the general term of ‘loss’ seems to be a cautionary concealment, with Nazi regime censors in mind. Touch wood is a translation of the word “unberufen” that Gisela inserted here. Both expressions can be defined as superstitious exclamations to ward off evil or bad luck after speaking favorably of something.

2. the equivalent of ~ 152 pounds

3. On pp. 3 ‐ 4 of his March 23‐ May 1939 letter, Hugo wrote emotionally about his military service in WWI, beginning with “What good is my one‐time heroism, that I volunteered to be sent to the frontline, . . . “

4. This is most likely an abbreviated reference to the typewriter that Gisela used: the Rex Visible Model 4 Typewriter, which began production in 1916.

5. Gisela used the Yiddish word for advice here, and capitalized it, as she would for a German noun.

6. Gisela’s husband, Leopold’s nickname was Poldi. Gisela has made Poldi’s nickname even more personally affectionate and diminutive by ending the name with an “l,” according to the traditional Yiddish language custom.

7. Gisela and her husband, Leopold, were forced out of their home in the city of Stockerau by the Nazis, and they were robbed of their leather‐goods business when it was ‘aryanized.’ She and Leopold moved to Hollabrunn and lived with Gisela’s parents, Siegmund and Berta Jellinek, until they were all expelled by the Nazis from there and foced to live in Vienna. In her letters of August 8, and September 9, 1938, Gisela wrote in detail about these expulsions and losses.

8. The translator and P. Jellinek wonder whether Gisela meant to write “. . . have the letters come to us. . . “ Our reasoning: If Mr. Feivel’s son’s letters were sent to Gisela, she could personally hand them over to Mr. Feiwel, whereas, if the son’s letters were mailed to Karl in NYC, Karl would have to mail them to the Feivels in Vienna, and upon receipt, Mrs. Feivel could continue to withold their son’s letters from her husband. It would be interesting to know why Mrs. Feivel was witholding these letters.

9. The counting of Max Jellinek within the restrictive limits of the USA’s Czech quota, would have been due to Max’s birth in in Mährisch Weisskirchen, in the Moravian Czech region of the Austrian Hungarian Empire, and to his not having obtained his Austrian citizenship after WWI.

10. In ancient Greek mythology, Cerberus is a dog with three or more heads, who guards the gates of the Hades underworld, to prevent the dead from escaping.

11. Gisela’s radio and all Jews’ radios were confiscated earlier in 1939. Gisela’s piano was most likely also recently ‘confiscated’ (forcibly taken/stolen). Gisela’s euphemistic, cryptic statement that “Unfortunately, we no longer have a radio, and my beloved spinet went the same route . .” is one of many examples of Gisela’s fearful mindfulness of Nazi regime censors who might punish her for writing any specific negative details. However, she and Poldi seem to have still been unaware that they would not have any “better times.” Actually, “in better times” is Esther Bates’ non‐literal translation of Gisela’s phrase “. . . bei anderen Zeiten. . . “ (in other times). It is likely that Gisela meant “in better times,” but she chose the more innocuous word “other,” because she was afraid that the Nazi regime censors would interpret “better” as an indictment of the present times.

12. One wonders to which flags, other than the ubiquitous swastika‐laden Nazi flags, Gisela could be referring? If she was referring to Nazi flags, this may have been a cheerfully positive statement meant to please the censors and to counteract the former sad paragraph. And/or Gisela may have been writing in a sarcastic tone that Karl would have understood.

13. This is Gisela’s cryptic way of telling Karl that Mr. Tiefenbrunn, a family friend, and Sacher Bertisch, Karl’s brother‐in‐law, were now imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp. Karl would have known that his nephew, Willy Jellinek, was already a prisoner in Dachau and that Oskar Jellinek, Willy’s father, was striving to get his son released.

14. We do not know exactly to what Gisela is referring in the latter part of this sentence, but it is likely that “everything,” at least, included Willy’s arrest and deportation to Dachau, (the first Nazi concentration camp, established in March 1933) and the non‐preventable “things” included Willy’s prolonged imprisonment and harsh treatment there.

15. Gisela’s optimistic hope for the future probably helped her to cope with the harsh and unexpected realities she was facing.

16. Credit and appreciation to Janina Wurbs, researcher and writer about the Holocaust and Yiddish culture, for deciphering the German word “ Palamt,” and realizing that Martha used “Palamt” as an abbreviation for the “Pal(ästina)” “Amt” (office), in an attempt to evade Nazi censors.
We know from Gisela’s January 12, 1939 letter to Hugo, that Karl was then trying to get Siegfried a job at the Palestine [Immigration] Office, and that Gisela expected that securing a job in that office, would provide Siegfried with income and “protection.” We do not know exactly when Siegfried began to work at the Palestine Office, why he was no longer working there, nor whether that office, in fact, was able to provide Siegfried any protection from Nazi persecution. In any case, Martha would have been worried about the loss of income, as well as, possibly, the loss of ‘protection,’ and unknown additional reasons.