August 11, 1939


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


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.


                                                                          (View German transcription)



Vienna, August 11, 1939

My beloved children!


In my current pleasant mood, I hasten to let you know about the joy and satisfaction I experienced from your dear lines, from which I happily gathered that after all your difficulties which worried us, you found a fine home, where you can now think of all of us, as we think of you; hardly a day, not even an hour goes by without my feeling close to you both spiritually and visibly, and I feel stimulated (I don’t want to say excited)


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to converse with you; yes, even in my dreams, I have seen you and Michaela -- unfortunately, it was only a dream. However, we hope that my dream will become reality, and with our belief and confidence in eventual overriding righteousness, I hopefully expect to live through these times.

Regarding your message, dear Karl, did you disregard the previously stated blessing which says:  

Blessed are You, Lord our God, King of the universe, who sanctified us with His commandments, commanding us to affix mezuzzot.1


To be followed by Shechechiyanu2


May this blessing bring to your soul both recognition and belief in God, with increased firmness and strength, as in [the saying] “God be with you!”3

Thus wishes your father, who is always thinking well of you. After all, our sages say: “Happy news makes fat legs.”4


[From Berta Schafer Jellinek]

My dear ones!

I was very pleased with your letter, because I could see from it that your situation has, thank God, improved. It should only continue to improve. Hopefully you, my darling Karl, will obtain a position appropriate for your education. With patience and endurance, everything works out.  Only your brother Max’s misfortune troubles me a great deal; I am very glad that you are so noble and willing to share with Max.


If the Niemans, Martha’s relatives, can also bring along additional things, we will give them a picture that you and Max will enjoy. Thank God, you will enjoy the taste of the cigarettes. Dear Anna from Sydney, who is behaving very honorably and good, has already sent things several times, although she unfortunately has no business, and Miron earns barely enough to live on.  Anna denies herself in order to sustain her poor brother. Your loving father and I worry a great deal about Max. We are delighted that you are sending

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an affidavit to Siegfried. Martha and Siegfried will be able to support themselves very well in America. Anyway, they will have you and your experience to lean on. Martha has developed still more skills in sewing clothing and ladies’ hats. With all these abilities, they should do wonderfully in America. I would have preferred that Erich5 would have been sent to Palestine -- he had the opportunity -- because for such a pampered child, it would be better for him to spend a few years in a foreign country away from home. I am very pleased that my darling grandchild6 is gaining well, and has become such a beautiful, universally loved child; she should always have only good health and fortune, to bring happiness to you and us. How are you, my dear Karla; for me the last months of pregnancy7 always went well; God will help you, don’t be afraid; the second birth is much easier and proceeds much better than the first. With our beloved Karl, I was pregnant the entire summer; he is also an autumn child. Your dear mother-in-law visits us almost every evening.8 Siegfried helps her a good deal in the Community9 with significant success. Tomorrow, Saturday, she is invited to our place. I am always pleased when she is with us. 


Thank God, we are in good health, and we pray for the same for you and your child. 

So, we wait for your reply to come soon, your loving mother Berta.

Write real soon and leave out10


Translated by Dr. Kurt Wegner, edited by Brigitte Balkow of Sütterlinstube, Germany


1. Siegmund carefully and exactly wrote out the Hebrew print letters of the blessing for affixing a mezuzzah (a decorative case containing a scroll on which is written the central Jewish prayer Shema) to the doorpost of one’s home. The English translation above is a literal translation of the Hebrew. Karl, his wife and baby daughter had escaped from the Nazis by ship and had arrived at Ellis Island five months earlier. They had moved into their second apartment in Manhattan ca. July. See Karl’s hopeful speech of March 5, 1939 aboard the ship.


2. Here, Siegmund is instructing his son to follow the first blessing (affixing of a mezuzzah) with the Shechechiyanu blessing, which is distinctive for its appreciation of and gratitude to God “...who has granted us life, sustained us and enabled us to reach this time.”


3. “God be with you” was and still is a traditional greeting in Austria.


4. This may be a humorously irreverent and sardonic way of Siegmund’s saying that it is not healthy to be complacent.


5. Erich, fifteen years old at this time, was the son of Berta and Siegmund’s son, Siegfried, and his wife, Martha.


6. Berta is referring to Karl and Karla’s first-born child, Michaela, born in Vienna in August 1937.


7. Karla was pregnant and expecting her second child in October. Tragically, this child, Bernhard, died of meningitis about a month short of his first birthday. Read more in Karl Jellinek’s biography.


8. Berta is referring to Karla’s mother, and Karl’s mother in-law.


9. Berta used the word “Gemeinde” here. Gemeinde, an abbreviated way of referring to the Israelitische Kultusgemeinde Wien, aka. the IKG, can be translated as the “Jewish Community of Vienna.”


10. It seems like Berta did not complete this last sentence. However, the words “leave out” may have been sufficient for Karl and Karla to understand the meaning of Berta’s request, i.e., when you write, leave out any information that could pose a risk if the Nazi censors read your letter.

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