July 10, 1939

Author(s) / Origin of Letter
Recipient(s) / Relationship to Author(s) / Destination of Letter
Hugo Jellinek
[Brünn, Czechoslovakia]

Gisella Nadja Jellinek (daughter of HJ)
[Rishon Le Zion, British Mandate Palestine]

Hugo expresses his deep bitterness and pessimism about the plight of Jews who are being persecuted by the Nazis and are also being barred by the British from finding refuge in Mandate Palestine. He bemoans the past failure of most Jews to heed Theodor Herzl’s warnings about the urgent need for a Jewish state. However, Hugo also cites Herzl’s declaration that with sufficient determination by the Jewish people, there could still be a way to overcome the obstacles and establish a Jewish state, as well as his own belief that the “ethical principle” will eventually prevail. The letter ends with Hugo’s hope and intimation that his two younger daughters and his new fiancée could get to Gisella Nadja in Mandate Palestine.


(View German Transcription)

2 Bank notes

My courageous girl! ReichsGerman City of Brünn,

July 10, 1939

Your highly interesting letter came surpisingly fast.
I think I understood it correctly despite its mysterious
content.1 I also wanted to show your fascinating letter
to the local Betar leader, the brother of Aunt Irma,2
but the poor devil has been interned for two weeks
in a State Sanatorium.3 But hopefully, before long,
Mr. Leo will come home to his very frightened and
unhappy Mama. He also has much work, for he must
register 100 youngsters, real “Betars” for the
soon-to-depart transport. Also, an illegal transport
(600) is supposed to leave around the 25th of this
[month]; also first class material, but assembled by
the most suspicious Mr. Flesch, who retreated in time
from the clutches of the authorities. They say that
this particular man did not pay the landing fee
and that therefore, the last emigrants had to
roam around Athens, Crete

(View German Transcription)

and God only knows where else, like the “Flying Dutchman”4 and therefore suffered much deprivation and misery. Both here [in Europe] and there, [getting into British Mandate Palestine] a weighty curse rests heavily on our sorely tested people. The “Flying Dutchman” was saved by Senta through her self-sacrifice; our Jewish people however, have to cope with their Jewish fate only on their own. Without any understandable reason, cruelly ousted from their present domicile, stripped and deprived of all the barest means, the forever martyred people are searching for the one and only homeland. And here is the most terrible tragedy: And even there,5 we are not allowed to enter without more obstacles. The most bitter aspect of it is that we at least partly, cannot be absolved of fault. Forty years ago, when the brilliant Moses of the twentieth century, our immortal Theodor Herzl, called on his people not to give in to a thoughtless, deceiving assimilation, not to be continually deceived by the

(View German Transcription)

“democratic - liberal” era about the dangerously hopeful6 situation of a "people without their own land,”7 who had to depend on the mercy of their "host nations;”8 there our people acted—and at the head, the protest-rabbis, as well as the rest of the similarly shortsighted pack — in a most disastrous manner. But it is never too late and “where there is a will, there is a way.”9

Since yesterday, when swastika flags waved gayly at the tram, (for us Jews, only the first half)10. the wave for Palestine swelled mightily. Whether it will be possible, [to get out of Nazi-occupied Europe and into Palestine] only the Gods know and they [the Gods] are now the statesmen of different countries; however, as far as I'm concerned, I see only bigger disasters ahead.11

“The man on whom the Gods (Chamberlain, Daladier) bestow Their gifts with hands that overflow
Comes never to a happy end.”12

(View German Transcription)

I hope you understand me. Besides, nowhere
does the ethical principle rule, as it does in
history, where it has been shown over and over
again for thousands of years, that all that was
built before on force, crime, lies and cheating,
must break apart sooner or later. The historian
judges everything as “a priori” [based on what he
knows from the past] and sits merrily at his window,
from where he looks at the apparent mad world
and smiles with smart satisfaction to himself, as the
fated inevitable events tragically roll by as he
imagined them. Naturally, I would be happy if
my three “pussycats” were with you. Why three?
I mean also my bride. Within the last days, I
became engaged secretly to the good-hearted,
noble and pious Fritzi Fränkel. In the entire
world, you are the first and only one who
gets to know this - Bertuschka and Lussinka13
a little later14

(View German Transcription)


English translation by Anne L. Fox, edited by Brigitte Balkow and Ursula Eckelmann of Sütterlinstube, Hamburg, Germany


1. This most likely refers to Gisella Nadja’s clandestine activities fighting for Israel’s sovereignty and in-dependence from the British, as a member of the Ziionist youth movement, Betar.

2. Leopold Polack was the local Betar leader and brother of Irma Polack Jellinek that Hugo is referring to. Irma was married to Artur Jellinek. Artur’s father, Eduard Jellinek, and Hugo’s father, Siegmund Jellinek, were brothers and so Artur and Hugo were first cousins., Irma therefore, was Hugo’s first cousin by marriage and not really Gisella Nadja’s “aunt,” but rather, a first cousin once - removed.

3. We do not know what precipitated or caused Leo Polack’s internment, whether Leo Polack was actually confined in a ‘State Sanitorium,’ whether Hugo believed that to be the case, or whether ‘State Sanitorium’ was Hugo’s disguised way to indicate a Nazi concentration camp or prison. There is no mention of Leo Polack again in any of the extant subsequent Jellinek family letters. We only know from Kurt Jellinek’s testimony to Yad Vashem’s Central Database of Shoah Victims’ Names, that Leo Polack was deported to Theresienstadt concentration camp and then to Auschwitz, where he was murdered in 1944. at the age of 49.

4. The Flying Dutchman was the name of a ghost ship in an old Dutch legend, that was doomed to sail the oceans forever. In Richard Wagner’s opera, which is based on this story, the Flying Dutchman is the cap-tain of this ship and Senta, the young daughter of another ship captain, drowns herself to save the Flying Dutchman from his curse. See https://skeptoid.com/episodes/4427 for more information on this reference by Hugo..

5. By “there” Hugo means British Mandate Palestine, whose regime heavily restricted the number of Jewish refugees who were allowed to enter.

6. Hugo likely means that the hopeful situation became dangerous because Jews became complacent and lured into staying in Europe, vs. working for and emigrating to then-Palestine.

7. German Nazi phrase, therefore the quotes

8. German Nazi phrase, therefore the quotes

9. Hugo is quoting the inspirational message of the Zionist leader, Theodor Herzl, who said this in ca. 1902 as he envisioned the future formation of Israel.

10. It is likely that Hugo meant here that “the first half” of the European Jewish people’s quagmire was to realize the urgency to escape and to manage to flee from the Nazi persecution, and the second half would involve success in travelling to and entering Britsh Mandate Palestine.

11. Hugo’s prediction of “only greater disasters ahead,” tragically, was bornre out.

12. In naming [Neville] Chamberlain, the then- British prime minister, and [Édouard] Daladier, the then-French premier, “Gods,” Hugo was being sarcastic and bitterly commenting on these statesmen’s chief roles in the Munich (appeasement) Agreement. In his letter of October 14, 1938. Hugo had already scathingly criticized Chamberlain and Daladier for giving in to Hitler’s demands and ceding Czechoslovakia’s ‘Sudentenland’ region to Hitler.
The three poetic lines are from an anonymous translation of the last lines of the 11th verse of Friedrich Schiller’s 1797 poem, “Polycrates' Ring.” The poem concerns fear of disaster striking and completely reversing one’s good fortune. For a translation of the full poem, see http://www.poetry-archive.com/s/the_ring_of_polycrates.html.
Hugo’s citation of this verse, also conveyed his implicit prediction of Hitler’s downfall, but, alas, this prediction did not come true quickly enough!

13. Bertuschka was Hugo’s affectionate, Russified nickname for his middle daughter, Berta, born in 1922. Hugo gave his youngest daughter, Anna, born 1923, a similarly Russified and affectionate nickname of Lussinka.

14. It is likely that there was another page (or pages) to this letter, that contained a closing signature, but that was somehow lost during the many years in Gisella Nadja’s possession. Less likely, but possible, is that in Hugo’s concentration on the content and rush to mail this letter, he forgot to sign it. [BB, UE, PJ]