July 26, 19381

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]

In this earliest extant letter from Hugo to his eldest daughter, he writes lovingly and hopefully about their being spiritually “forever and inseparably connected,” and of his confidence in the entire family’s reunion in British Mandate Palestine by ca. 1940. Hugo tells his eldest daughter about the difficult housing, economic (and interpersonal) circumstances in Brünn with which he, his daughter, Berta, and other poor emigrés and refugees are coping. Despite these kinds of hardships, however, Hugo wishes the rest of his family could be with him in Brünn, rather than being subject to the frightening threats and persecution in Nazi-occupied Vienna. He notes that Willy, the son of Hugo’s first cousin, Oskar Jellinek, is imprisoned in Dachau, and that Oskar is virtuously trying to help and rescue Willy. Hugo shares his thoughts about the “…agonizing situation of the Jews,… ” the Jewish people’s failure to “… hear Herzl’s call 46 years ago… ” and the urgent current need for “… a country of our own… ” and a “… genius of a leader…” Hugo also writes about his daughter Berta’s job difficulties, his worry over her social life and over his daughter Anna’s plea to bring her to Brünn. Lastly, he writes about his inspiration from a new friend, Theresa Spitz, and his enjoyment of Friday night services at a local synagogue.

 
 

(View German Transcription)

Brünn, July 26, 1938 [?]

My dear Gisuschka,2
I have heard about your mishap, but, thank God, you reached your aim soundly and safely.  I am blissfully happy that you are feeling well and all I am asking from you is to take all my rules of behavior to heart: drink only boiled3 water, handle with clean hands and carefully store food, etc. I am hoping to receive a detailed report from you soon. I am sending this letter to my unhappy ones in bandit-ruled Germany, because they have now sent me your first very interesting report. Now, let’s turn to me: six weeks ago, on a memorable day, the two of us were heading towards our new home. Even though we were going to different countries, our hearts were forever and inseparably connected and in a couple of years, I will be with you, as will both of your two sisters. But about that, later; first something about me: I made a mistake in leaving all my money behind, taking only 250 CK [Czech Crowns] with me, which they took away from me in Bohemia because there were two 100 bills among them. Meanwhile, I have received the money back. I also ordered money from Hoffman in Hollabrunn, who owes me money (700 – 900 Schillings)4 ... and I ordered 15 RM, (Reichsmark) approximately 22 [Kronen ?(Czech Crowns)], sent to Willy (Uncle Oskar’s son)5 in Dachau. -- Here, Oskar will pay me back this sum with interest, so that I can live free from any worries in the meantime. Before I go on, I want to point out that it is a sign of Uncle Oskar’s noble mind and magnanimity, that he in Vienna, after all that happened, all the dreadful scenes, does not leave any stone unturned in order to rescue his child, even though his ‘Prodigal Son,’ from the hell of Dachau, or at least somehow facilitate his sad situation through weekly parcels. Hopefully, Willy will revise his previous behavior regarding his slightly crazy and uncultured character and will learn to understand that his father is one of the most refined people, endowed with a nobility of mind which is rarely found among us Jews.

Similarly nobly and forgiving, Uncle Oskar treated his wife, who as you will remember, called the police in order to throw her own husband out of his own coffee house. For this infamy, she received a slap in the face from her own temperamental husband. Of course, the mean, revengeful and ungrateful intriguer sued him. However, it never led to any trial;

(View German Transcription)

[Reverse side of first page/regarded here as page II. The top of this page, where “II.” likely was written, has torn off.]

fate willed otherwise, and this terrible divine judgment is upon us poor Jews. So, one should never be guided in life by such devilish - demonic vices as hatred, revenge, selfishness, lust for power, telling lies and the like, as they inevitably lead their seduced, misled victims to ruin. –  And if Aunt Berta, after her adventurous and tiring escape, was received so nobly and considerately by uncle Oskar, despite all that had happened, and as if nothing at all had happened, then she owes this undeserved luck only to this gentleman6 and aristocrat. And rest assured, that her upkeep here costs him handsomely. He himself has provided for her in a completely new and elegant fashion; and what’s more, he paid for her passage [to here].

However, Emma, “goddess of revenge,” triumphed and thoroughly spoiled her sojourn there.

I do not have to describe who Emma is.7 The only thing I want to point out, is that [Aunt] Berta had been driven mad by this “Satana”8 for three months. God knows how Bertuschka [tolerated] all the terrible meanness, intrigues, vulgarities and inquisitiveness of this pathologically chattering woman._-- Fortunately, I immediately came here and effected her move into the hostel for young girls, at almost no cost, even though we pay 350 CK every month for Bertuschka, which is far too much, given the mass accommodation and the not exceptional food. I too, had to pay her9 some 90 CK every month for my bug-ridden bed. It is one week now that I have a new room for myself, for which I am paying 100CK, but at least I have my own room, can wonderfully and peacefully study day and night without interruption, groom myself and exercise.  Apart from all the troubles, I could not stand living there anymore anyway, since both of them treated me in such an arrogant and mean way. And if I, a grown-up and intelligent man with a ready tongue, could not fight such meanness and vulgarity, how could our poor [Berta10] possibly survive with this megaera11 and her oaf of a husband? I therefore cannot be grateful enough to my cousin Arthur for his early efforts. I live in a small private room, but also unfortunately, with a big bug-infested water-closet, from which I can overlook directly into the “League,” and see the throng of new emigrants12 arriving daily...



(View German Transcription)

III.

The “League” is a relief center here for all
the refugees from Germany and Austria without any distinction of
gender or nation - you see, quite a few
Christians also (and even a Negro with family) come here - providing them with lodging
and rights. — The Jewish sense of charity will not die,
and these bastards of Hitler and Göring will never succeed
in having these emigrants croak in the gutter. I would be more than happy
if Siegfried, or uncle Poldi, [and] Miron13 would come here because they live
with these mean robbers and gangsters in
such a horror and in a panic-stricken fear of being arrested and sent to a concentration
camp; the notorious Dachau. By the way,
you should be informed about the agonizing situation of the Jews
and that this misery which befell our
poor people14 with such massive force,
can repeat itself at any time and everywhere,
unless we understand God’s signs15 in some moment of fate
and vigorously forge our fate by
fighting above all, for a country of our own, even if it is
very small. It will grow bigger, but
first of all, such thugs16 and fascists like Mussolini
[and] Hitler have to vanish from the earth, then England
will easily overcome the Arab-bandits,
and will certainly assign us, a reliable and loyal people,
as much land in Palestine, as we need for the construction
of a strong nation.

(View German Transcription)

[Reverse Side of Page III. - July 1938 Calendar page]


[left margin:] In Austria it’s a real horror and all the Jews are being robbed.


[bottom margin:] But everyone will be taken care of.


[right margin:] Have you pic[tures ?] xxx?


Machine-printed information under the July 1938 heading on this calendar page include the title of the photo and name of the photographer: Alpenrosen [Alpine Roses], by J. Gaberell; and the three dates: Monday, July 11, sunrise 4:39 AM; Tuesday, July 12, and Wednesday, July 13, sunset 8:21 PM.

(View German Transcription)

IV.

We Jews did not want to hear Herzl’s call 46 years ago and today we stand again before a twist of fate; hopefully a genius of a leader will arise again, who will find a proper way out within these difficult times.17 Now back to me. -- Except for weak nerves, I feel well; the tiredness, the weakness may be a result of inadequate nutrition. But this shortage will soon be fixed; time flies for me as I read a lot and devote 3 - 4 hours daily to the study of Czech. Then I go to the sponsored lunch.18 The meal could be better compared with the raised funds, but if one is not spoiled and has to save, one must be satisfied with such fare. Certainly one has to supplement it. Bertuschka19 dines there also, but she eats very little there, so that she has to supplement it. Nor is she happy with her employer, who seemed to be quite decent at first, but recently has been more influenced by his vulgar, anti-Semitic wife Henlein [?] and thus Bertuschka is in a difficult position. Bertuschka is a very good child, a very straightforward, upright character, but I am often angry that she visits at times the society of socialist men. Though, it is entirely harmless, but it is not good if a refined Jewish girl devotes herself with socialist ideas, to say nothing of radical leftist ideas, and keeps so much company with such extreme people. Brünn is a big gossip place and soon one gets a bad reputation. Above all, “Aunt Emma”20 already sees to it that Bertuschka falls into disrepute, so that she perhaps shouldn’t get attention from one of her [Aunt Emma’s] brothers. It wouldn’t be bad if you wrote her a let-ter in which you describe life there in bright, enthusiastic colors and whet her appitite to come to you or near you. Maybe you will succeed in obtaining a visa for your sister, as she is not happy in her job, particularly under such a man. Nevertheless, I’ll motivate her even now, to work privately, put in some curlers, do a few manicures, and in that way, she’ll get experience and earn a bit as well. And she won’t be thinking about foolishness all the time and will better learn the worth of money. I received a very moving letter from Lussinka21 in which she swears by everything for me to


(written in the left margin of page IV):
Berta fell from her bicycle and can’t write. Next week she must already go back to work again.


(View German Transcription)

V.

bring her to Brünn. God only knows what happened to her again at home with such unpredictable temperaments of Grandpa and Aunt Gisa; even the most patient person can despair. And this letter is written in a very desperate mood and probably sent behind Aunt Gisa’s back. Naturally, I arranged for her departure from Hollabrunn right away and arranged it so that she could come here at once. Either she will go into a home for young girls, or probably, as an intelligent, pretty and refined girl, she will immediately find a position as teacher or nursemaid. Or in a Kibbutz and go right away to you. Then when all my children are in Palestine with God’s help, then I will come too. Bertuschka is used to foreign travel, very smart, has a common sense and is very popular with her clientele because of her modesty; sorry to say, also with the many young people of her acquaintance. Maybe, because she is not arrogant or proud; Lussinka is far more vain and self-centered, which has much to do with the milieu in which they grew up.22 So when Lussinka is here, we’ll write you of her success without hesitation. I myself, live at Na Ponavce 26 with the Bondy family - I am living with lovely people and I have once again, so to speak, “found myself”, after I “went to pieces” when I was living in the mass accommodations. I learn diligently, read, memorize, but don’t forget to look around for a livelihood. I have already found a noble and high-minded woman friend; a very clever business woman; unfortunately she is married, but despite that, she will give me a good idea or some kind of stimulation. -- Friday night I attend, sometimes with Berterl23, [Sabbath] services, which are simply delightful. The local senior cantor is a wonderful singer, a glowing heroic tenor and artist, and if he were more of a “Chazen,”24 not so much of a vocalist, he would be in the end, more of what one ideally expects in a Temple. His sermon always becomes an experience for me. - Uncle Oskar is unfortunately seriously ill and is not seeking a cure, (a “craziness”25 of his). So my golden one, write me soon in detail and also write if you need anything. -- Please, please, stay very well and be careful in every way.


[written in the left margin of page V]:
With many loyal kisses, your Papa Hugo


(View German Transcription)

 

Translated by Laura Jockusch; edited by Brigitte Balkow and Ursula Eckelman of Sütterlinstube, Hamburg, Germany

Footnotes

1. The numerals “26” are the only legible numerals of the date that remain in the upper right corner of this torn page. However, in the fifth sentence, Hugo refers to the day “six weeks ago” that he and Gisella Nadja each began their separate journeys to Brünn and Palestine, respectively. Gisella Nadja remembered that each of their journeys began on June 6, 1938. Six weeks after June 6, 1938, would have been July 18, and not July 26. However, I believe that it is more probable that Hugo was somehow short one week in his calculation than that Gisella Nadja misremembered the date of her departure from Vienna to Palestine. Other content within this letter that indicate that Hugo at least began to write on or around July 26, 1938 (and perhaps completed the five pages over a period of some days or weeks thereafter) consists of the following:

  1. Hugo has changed and improved his living conditions, and both he and Berta (who arrived in Brünn later in June or early in July) are more settled in their new ways of living in Brünn.
  2. Hugo’s statement that he has “already found” a friend in Mrs. Spitz, implies that he has not been in Brünn very long.
  3. Hugo’s youngest daughter, Anna, has not arrived in Brünn yet; only her beseeching letter has. This dates Hugo’s letter as before late September or October 1938, when Anna came to Brünn.
  4. Hugo wrote page “III” of this letter fragment on the reverse side of a calendar page, headed July 11, 12, and 13, 1938. This last fact adds at least circumstantial evidence that Hugo’s letter was written after July 13, 1938.

2. Hugo’s Russified, affectionate nickname for Gisella Nadja.

3. Gisella Nadja told P. Jellinek in 2006 that she had worried more about having water at all. “This was the Orient,” she said. She and her fellow members of the Betar community were happy if water came out of the faucet at all. They did not boil it.

4. 800 Austrian Schillings could have been exchanged for 533 German Reichsmarks in 1938, post-Anschluss Austria, and was the equivalent of $214 (in 1938 US Dollars).

5. Willy Jellinek, who was then imprisoned in Dachau concentration camp, was the grandson of Siegmund Jellinek’s sister, Jetti Jellinek. Oskar Jellinek was Willy’s father and Jetti Jellinek’s son. “Aunt Berta” was Oskar’s wife and Willy’s mother.

6. Hugo uses the English word “Gentleman” here, although he adds an extra “n” at the end. (BM)

7. It is unfortunate that Hugo did not explain who “Emma” was. My best guess is that “Emma” may have been the landlady from whom Oskar Jellinek’s wife, “Aunt Berta”, rented living space while she was living away from Oskar, and perhaps from whom Hugo also may have rented living quarters. [PJ]

8. She-devil.

9. If we are correct in surmising that Emma was Aunt Berta’s, as well as Hugo and (his daughter) Berta’s previous landlady, then “Emma” is likely the “her” that Hugo is complaining about having had to pay 90 CK monthly to, as well as being the very mean, “…pathologically chattering” woman and the “…megaera” whose intolerable behavior Hugo condemns in two later sentences.

10. Hugo wrote “Tschoperl” here, the meaning and even language of which is unknown. It is clear, however, that Hugo is referring sympathetically to his daughter, Berta/Bertuschka.

11. Megaera denotes a spiteful or jealous woman. This association derives from Greek mythology in which Megaera was imagined as one of three brutal female immortal “Furies” of angry vengeance and justice. “Megaera” in particular, was “the jealous one” or deity/spirit of “jealous rage.”

12. These emigrés were refugees fleeing from Germany and Austria.

13. Siegfried Jellinek was Hugo’s younger brother; Leopold (nicknamed Poldi) Schlesinger and Miron Nadel were Hugo’s brothers-in-law who were married to his sisters Gisela and Anna, respectively. All three of these men, as well as every one of Hugo’s close relatives (except for his daughters, Gisella Nadja and Berta) were still in Vienna or Hollabrunn, Austria at this time.

14. The Jewish people or nation is implied here in the German word used: “Volksgenossen.” (LJ) I think, Hugo uses the word deliberately as it is a very old word (1798) and has been used for compatriot - cp. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Volksgenosse (sorry: German only). It can be applied for each nation, not only the German nation. (BB)

15. Hugo uses the words “Fingerzeig Gottes,” which literally means that God should make a sign with His finger to let people know what to do. (LJ)

16. The words that Hugo uses in this sentence, Strolche (thugs) and Banditen (bandits) are relatively weak, but I believe that they had a stronger meaning back then, than they do today. (LJ)

17. Hugo is referencing Theodor Herzl’s ‘call’ for the establishment of a national homeland for the Jewish people.

18. This refers to a charity-sponsored kind of ‘soup kitchen.’

19. Bertuschka is Hugo’s affectionate, Russified nickname for his middle daughter, Berta.

20. “Aunt Emma” is most likely the “Emma, goddess of revenge,” to whom Hugo referred on page II. of this letter.

21. Lussinka is Hugo’s affectionate, Russified nickname for Anna, the youngest of his three daughters.

22. The milieu that Hugo is most likely referring to, is Hugo’s parents, Siegmund and Berta Jellinek’s home -cum- synagogue in Hollabrunn, in which both Berta and Anna lived from 1930 - 1938. Berta and Anna’s grandfather, Siegmund, had a high status in Hollabrunn as an Oberkantor and Jewish spiritual leader, counselor, teacher, and vital records registrar. It is not clear, however, why Anna would have been become more vain and self-centered than Berta in that same milieu. During their early childhood, Anna and Berta also lived in the same home and milieu in Tashkent, Uzbekistan.

23. Berterl is another diminutive, affectionate nickname for Hugo’s daughter, Berta.

24. “Chazen” or “Khasn” is the Yiddish word for a cantor who sings liturgical music in a synagogue.

25. Hugo uses “Schegan” here; a Yiddish word that can be roughly translated as “craziness,” “craze” or “whim”. Hugo likely meant that for Oskar not to even seek a cure or treatment for his illness, was a kind of crazy, unnatural idiosyncracy or eccentricity.