November 24, 1938

 

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

Summary

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.

 

                                                                                                                   (View German transcription)

My precious child!                                Brünn, November 24, 1958 [sic]1

Your last letter caused me happiness. Lussinka and Bertuschka2 also had much joy from your letter. In the meantime, we sent what you requested: shoes, dress, a knitted vest, underwear, headrest, socks, gloves, pajama bottoms and something sweet. Also, Mrs. Spitz, our best and most precious friend and protector, also added chocolate, although I fear that this token from this amiable woman may be taken out, or should we even be worried about that? Hopefully! Please acknowledge receipt right away. Here there is nothing new. You might also be aware that the Czechs and Slovaks are docile students of Adolf Hitler's: It is significantly easier to make beasts out of humans than the other way around3 . . . . . and rob, plunder and kill. . . , that is the newest device of the middle-class citizens of middle-European society. When Schiller wrote: “Die Rauber,” [The Robbers], he could not have imagined that his lines “Burning, murdering, robbing, fighting — this is nothing more than a way for us to pass time; tomorrow we'll hang from the gallows; therefore live and be merry today ...” would become the leitmotif of the brutalized German nations and all of their annexed and occupied peoples . . . . . . .






It is a gleam of hope that America and England broadcast their ethical indignation about these criminal happenings in Germany — to shout out to the whole world and appropriately characterize these gangsters and various companions. — But meanwhile, we have a new president, Dr. Hagel. Nomen est omen4 — pardon: Hacha, would be more appropriate; he is supposed to be, it is said, a very objective and important jurist. Meanwhile there is an easing of the situation of the Jews who fled Hitler-occupied territory, in that they can opt for C. Sl. [Czechoslovakia]. What luck that a Czech citizen can opt for the C. Sl !? Perhaps the legal status of repatriates, [the group] to which I also belong, could somehow be settled, hopefully in a favorable way!5 In the meantime, nothing can be done, for the few that already held such positions had to give them up immediately.6 So it means waiting for the time being. Of course, I worry about the future, the expenses are enough, as I must support







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II.
Bertuschka and Lussinka, as they are both growing and especially Lussinka, who has ‘touch wood,’7 such a blessed appetite that one cannot provide enough. At the same time, she has very good sense in her habits and she is good and clever and therefore well-liked and well fed by her employers, and she enjoys looking so wonderful.



She never looked so well and Aunt Gisinka8 would be so happy if Lussinka would travel there for Christmas. Bertuschka is also obedient and a good child, a good true sister; only she could be more restrained in certain ways. She also already earns 100 Crowns9 monthly by moonlighting and improves herself in this way, combining the pleasant with the useful. I am very well, thanks to the extraordinariness of all the women, and I have gained several kilos. Only I don't know how I can reciprocate. Also, this honorable lady and sympathetic, wonderful Jewess is in love with Lussinka and sends her daily delicious cooked desserts. Bertha also receives very good things from her and Mrs. Spitz is like a mother to her. Unfortunately, Berta does not listen to reason and is often very wrong, so that she has already harmed herself and me a lot.10 I want to beg you to write a personal, detailed letter to Bertha: Address: B.J. Brünn, Stepanskaja 4a, fourth floor, c/o Mr. Klonbuk. Please also ask and encourage her to register with the local Bethar. These days 400 religious boys and girls (Bethar members) left. Unfortunately, on the way through Slovakia, they were attacked and robbed by Hlinka- bandits;11 unfortunately, among them was Anny, the daughter of Kogus, who only last week got married and had received a very expensive engagement ring from her husband. All the other jewelry was stolen from most of them. Also Ruthie, the second daughter of Kogus, went with her. If you can, help them out; hopefully they will come to you.

Many kisses, your doting Papsi, Hugo



[p. 2, left margin]: If Paul arrives, please report it immediately. Many warm greetings from the others.

[p. 2 right margin]: I am well and work very hard here for the Jabotinsky idea - struggle for numbers12 and for peace.

 

Translated by Anne L. Fox, edited by Brian Middleton as well as Brigitte Balkow and Barbara Sommerschuh of Sütterlinstube, Hamburg, Germany

Footnotes

1. Writing “1958” was an unusual kind of mistake for Hugo to make, but it certainly is a mistake, and the year had to be 1938. It is also probable that Hugo wrote this letter over the span of a few days, because he wrote that Hácha was the new president, but [Dr. Emil]Hácha did not become the Czech president until November 30, 1938.

2. Lussinka was a Russified nickname for Hugo's youngest daughter, Anna. Bertuschka was Hugo's Russified nickname for his middle daughter, Berta.

3. Probably quoted from The Spirit of Laws by Baron de Montesquieu.

4. “Nomen est omen” is a reference to what is today called nominative determinism; the theory or belief that a person's name influences his path in life. The meaning of the German word “Hacke” or “Hacker” — a person or thing that cuts or strikes with rough blows, e.g., butcher, cleaver — may be what Hugo was alluding to here. Hugo may have seen President Emil Hácha as ominous and threatening, because Hácha was chosen to replace the anti-Nazi President, Edvard Beneš, after Beneš' forced resignation. Hugo may also have feared that amid all of the growing pressure from Germany. Hácha would not be able to exert sufficient power to help Jewish refugees get Czech citizenship and to aid Jews get out of the Sudeten areas and into the remaining regions of Czechoslovakia.

5. Hugo (still) had Czech citizenship. Although Hugo had lived in Vienna before WWI and from 1930 - 1938, upon his 1930 return from Tashkent, Uzbekistan, he had not obtained Austrian citizenship, either because the Austrian government did not allow it, or had made the process of gaining it very difficult, or because Hugo did not think he needed or wanted it.

6. It is not clear whether Hugo means here that Jewish repatriates had to immediately give up their Czech citizenship, or whether there is a different meaning.

7. Hugo uses the word “unberufen” here, which literally means “without involving ill-luck.” The Funk & Wagnalls German & English dictionary of 1914, adds that ‘unberufen’ is “a superstitious exclamation to ward off evil after speaking favorably of something.”

8. Aunt Gisinka is another Russified form that it seems, Hugo made up for his sister/Gisella Nadja's Aunt Gisela (Jellinek Schlesinger).

9. The Czech Crown [koruna] was the currency of Czechoslovakia at this time and until March 14, 1939, the start of the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia. The Czech koruna's use was resumed on November 1, 1945.

10. Hugo is probably referring here to his worries about Berta's association with Socialists in Brno. He wrote more about this concern in his letter of August 21, 1938.

11. Wikipedia's article on the Hlinka Guard includes the following pertinent information: “The Hlinka Guard was the militia maintained by the Slovak People's Party in the period from 1938 to 1945. The Hlinka Guard were Slovakia's state police and most willingly helped Hitler with his plans. It operated against Jews, Czechs, Hungarians, the Left and the opposition.”

12. “numbers” refers to the goal of getting as many Jews into British Mandate Palestine as possible, largely by increasing the number of Jews that the British will permit to enter Palestine.

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