August 21, 1938


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 begins this long letter to his eighteen-year-old daughter, Nadja Gisella, with strong praise of her and loving birthday wishes. The remainder of the eight pages is mostly full of bitter, poignantly perceptive, prescient, political, intertwined with personal observations and predictions; e.g., a.) foretelling the doom of the Jews of Czechoslovakia if Hitler invaded the country successfully, b.) recognizing that many of the local Czech Jews were not aware that they were in the same imminent danger as the Jewish refugees from Austria, Germany and the Czech Sudeten region, and c.) being alert to both K. Henlein and J. Streicher’s powerful and dangerous influences. Only Hugo’s strongly expressed belief that the Czech nation would fight Hitler “to the last drop of blood” was tragically not borne out.

                                                                                  (View German transcription)

                               Brünn, August 21, 1938
My deeply beloved child!

           Your letter dated the 15th of this month fills me with great pleasure and proud satisfaction.  I have always felt that you are a wonderful and good child, and you know too that my anxious thoughts constantly and forever revolve around you, my brave and hardworking girl, who is working under such dangerous and difficult conditions........ I don’t have to wait until your birthday to remember you, or, by means of some token of my attention, to emphasize how much happiness your existence gives me, because as far as I am concerned, every day is your birthday; almost every day I experience the mystery, the miracle of your rebirth, as you develop further each day in your spiritual and emotional-feminine attitude while you, my exceptionally well-behaved and splendidly loyal child, rise for me time and again - But nevertheless, I also want to fulfill the

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formal requirement and bestow many thousand of kisses on your sweet mouth which is [tanned ?] with imagination and brimming with shiny, healthy teeth.  

Doubtless, also not without interest, are your recounts from the point of view of an artist and writer, and I would like to suggest that you start a diary in which you can confide your impressions, feelings and observations in your pure and wistful manner.1 Many a famous woman has started a diary as a girl and has gradually grown to become a serious artist. Unfortunately, you have little time to dream and write, as you take your duties very seriously; yes, I am almost tempted to say that you are a little idealist storming the sacred.  ---

Compared to you, I am leading a much easier life here, although the future is shrouded with gunpowder-black sheets, and I too am anxiously worrying about my noble and exceptionally fine relatives in Czerny.2 I suffer terribly from the fate of two of the finest people, Gisa and Poldi,3 for they have to leave Stockerau within the next 8 days, and they do not know where to go. Hopefully, they will be allowed to live with the grandparents in Hollabrunn in the meantime; otherwise the misery would be unimaginable. But that is what is happening to all Jews in Stockerau, which has been turned into an army camp. The fact is, there will be maneuvers soon, along the borders of the Czechoslovakian Republic, of all places, and therefore accommodations for the many officers in the neighboring garrisons are required. Since the Jew in Germany is completely without any rights and is treated worse than a dog, they [the Nazis] simply chase away these unfortunates in order to have apartments for the ‘saviors of Germany’.  Strangely enough, Germany, or rather the Third Reich, is not threatened by anybody, or at the most, by its own booted hordes that “maneuver” this unfortunate country

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into a disastrous and terrifying war. This bandit Hitler, and his entire gang of criminals, won’t relent and are desperate to “liberate” the Henlein-Germans just as they rescued and “pleased” the Germans in Austria back then.4 However, this criminal enterprise, which is designed to help them get their claws on the richest country in Europe, might not be as easy to achieve as it was with Schuschnigg-Austria.5 Bohemia is a tough nut to crack with which this pack of criminals will break their teeth; we should say it is a hard roll,6 which will choke these insane devils. Despite the many local German traitors, the government and the people are united in their unwavering will to defend freedom and democratic achievements until the last drop of blood. The same fighting spirit and high morale prevails here as among the extremely courageous Spanish people, who, for two years, although greatly outnumbered, have been offering heroic resistance to Franco’s band of thieves. One has to bear in mind that Franco’s bandits are very much supported with weapons, money and troops by Hitler and Mussolini, while the poor republicans are very much left to their own resources. Probably, there are many Nadjas among them. . . . 


We Jews will have to fight like lions here, of course, and not allow ourselves to be slaughtered as in Austria back then, because in any case, in the event of a victorious invasion by Hitler, we will be lost. However, I would wish that on many of the local ostentatious Jewish snobs, many of whom deserve such a terrible trial. Because it is a disgrace how the [Jewish] Brünner society behaves toward us poor emigrants; since they, who are in the same great danger, are not aware of it, in their inconsiderate narrow-mindedness,


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but rather lock us out, often with a hostile attitude, shielding and hardening their hearts with invented horror stories about the refugees, so that they don’t have to yield to any natural emotion. Uncontrollable rumors are being spread without any criticism or conscious scrutiny; they denounce us, poorest of the poor, as swindlers, cheats, fraudsters, criminals and the like, in order to kill their consciences, which demand that they, as our fellow Jews and fellow countrymen, receive us brothers in religion and nation as equals, instead of treating us like “troublesome foreigners.” On a Friday evening, there are too many rich Jews in the Temple, and it does not occur to any one of them to invite some poor devil, who certainly could sadly remember his former solemn7 Sabbath feast, to his own richly prepared table. But what can one expect of a community whose rabbi is a mean profiteer and capitalist, who has never, not even once in his sermons, alluded to our unspeakable physical and emotional distress and constant despair, nor has even set a good example through his personal behavior. Or the two self-satisfied cantors; compared to them, our Papa8 is a different, true Jew, who holds true the feeling of belonging and solidarity with every Jew who has become poor and miserable, not of his own doing.

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But why should strangers be any different, if even one’s own relatives are bad, heartless and indifferent? If you consider this Arthur, my natural cousin,9 such a high [bank] official who leads such a wonderful life, who can go to the countryside for almost two months with his entire family and his housemaid, who walks past me whenever I sit there at the free table without showing any emotion, even though it would be his duty to have me eat on his account some time, given how cheap the meals are here. And should he worry that I would not accept [his invitation], he could at least try and offer me some money in a gentle, considerate way to help me improve my situation. This is one of the extreme examples of the local Jews’ egotism, and his wife doesn’t seem to be any better, or perhaps she is not allowed to be. But I can assure you that he always has money for his frequent infidelities; he’s not stingy with that.

Also, the three rich and continuously well-earning Schafer cousins10 are not good human beings and relatives; I have asked them to pay me the amount which I paid to the needy Schafers in Vienna; for example, Anna or Aunt Gisa give 20 - 30 Reichsmark per month to the Schafers in Vienna, and the Schafers here pay me the equivalent sum of 100 - 150 Kronen per month, thus supporting their starving relatives in Vienna and helping me here as their cousin and an emigrant. To such well-off people, such an amount does not make a difference, and it is a sign of a low-grade mind and wickedness to refuse such a self-evident matter while the danger of an invasion is latent. Initially, they wanted me to come over for a meal every other day; however, I go there every now and then. But because they behave in such a small-minded way and, above all, their youngest daughter, Fritzie, was treating me like a scrounger, by not greeting me neither when I came nor when I left, I have been avoiding these parvenus for a month. There is a similar situation at the Rogus’ place, where my cousin, as well as his sons and Uncle Eduard, mean well towards me, but this arrogant daughter, who behaves brazenly and like a tart towards her mother in my presence, makes it impossible for me to accept an invitation, no matter how honest and well-intentioned. 


At Berta Fischl’s, it is uncomfortable and moreover, she is jealous and terribly selfish, so that I won’t allow her to help me, and I still haven’t eaten there even once. The other brothers, Moritz, Joseph, [and] Richard are not bad people, but they are conceited, rather poor and dependent on their wives, so that I go and see those people very rarely too. More often, I go to Emma the “devil” [?], who actually does not seem to have a good heart, but is terribly narrow-minded and calculating, so that, only in order not to provoke her, I have to accept her frequent invitations. Otherwise, I try to avoid her too. But I have to go there occasionally, because Oskar and Berta11 are almost always there and I do need both of them. As you know, dear grandpa is selling my goods [?], and from the proceeds sends 15 Reichsmark every week to poor Willi,12 who is languishing in Dachau, and Oskar pays me the equivalent amount here,


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on which Bertuschka,13 whom I can already support better now, are living. She also looks much better now and would be even prettier if she slept a bit more. Unfortunately, she does not let me tell her anything and she upsets me very often. She completely neglects me; she doesn’t even come to give me a manicure, and despite my repeated prohibitions, she hangs out with these political emigrés, who live in a not particularly attractive mass accommodation. She always finds time to manicure and pamper those “friends.” She only comes to me for money and nothing else, although I live right across from her hairdresser’s salon.14 I also try every day to turn her away from this communist gang and draw her into the Bethar15 camp -- perhaps I would succeed with the help of a young handsome Bethar member, who would need to turn her head the same way that one communist did there. On the other hand, I do not want to use brute force, nor be a tyrant, but I want to bring Bertuschka onto the real Jewish-national path by means of patience and persuasion. One must not overlook that meanwhile, Bertuschka has grown into a very clever and rather sharp and logical-thinking girl, who already has her own “convictions” and does not let other people easily change her mind. Though, here in Europe, it is understandable and forgivable for Jews to unite in an eminently anti-fascist front, to be able to successfully combat the most cruel and most unscrupulous persecutor of Jews of all mankind, Hitler - Streicher.16 But it is incomprehensible and unforgivable to drag such alien ideologies as communism and such into Palestine. Instead of first tending to one’s own house, to erect it on one’s own ground and to then paint the interior -- everything is done the other way around. The same fate awaits the Jews there, and must be regarded as a threat, just like in any other place where people are incapable of self-reflection, repeat alien ideas in a slavish way, and try to assimilate with force. -- Therefore, first the house, and then paint and decorate. -- Therefore, first build your house and then paint it!!!

I am in good health, my darling, and spend the days quite happily -- I am extremely lucky to be at the mercy of a charming and noble, although not wealthy, lady.17 This exceptionally characterful and sincere woman owns a little creamery where I have my breakfast and where this magnanimous woman offers me everything at a very favorable price, in fact, almost for free, because I recommend clients and sometimes give her advice. This woman is a praiseworthy exception, has a golden Jewish heart and is [...?] competent, so that I would be happy if Luschinka18 could be her trainee. But in the meantime, Luisa must stay with Aunt Gisa and Truderle,19 because the poor Aunt would be very unhappy if she lost her Luisa, whom she adores.


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But she [Hugo's daughter - Anna/Luschinka/Luisa] will be coming over to me already next month, from where she can get to Palestine quicker than from Vienna. In the meantime, events have happened there [Vienna] in a rush. Most Jews were given eviction notices by their landlords and they cannot find any apartments at all. Moreover, there are also the Jews from all over the province who have to leave there within 14 days as well. Our old grandparents, too, are devastated20 that they must leave Hollabrunn21 by September 20th. Now I also imagine the misery of aunt Gisa, Poldi and Lußinka,22 who moved only this week, and spent so much effort and money on preparing the law office and the kitchen, and [now] have to move back to Vienna again. Infinite distress and ill-fated misery has befallen these magnificent and so charitable Jews. For that reason, I am traveling to Kanitz23 tomorrow, to arrange, under some pretext, for a visa24 for Czechoslovakia to be given to Grandpa. I will try very hard, and I hope that it will work out, since Grandpa had actually been a Czech citizen until 1924, and because Kanitz also needs a cantor. If only those unfortunates could be here already. Of course, Lussa will come with them; then I shall be a bit calmer.


Before I continue about myself, I want to add some more to the story about our relatives and the local society of Jews. Oskar jellinek is the most distinguished, noble and generous [person] one can imagine, both towards his ungrateful, but now somewhat improved members of his family, as well as towards the many refugees here. When it happens sometimes, that emigrants get arrested and incarcerated for 8 - 14 days for illegally crossing the border, he can’t rest


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and he spends good money to bring [supplies?] to these poor devils in jail. His wife is as dear as he is, having taken Bertushka into her heart as if she were her own child. She is also very kind with me and despite her desperate emotional state, she is looking for employment for me. It is only to these two magnificent people, each one charming in his [/her] own way, that we both owe our relatively good life. Unfortunately, the two of us are so saddened and dispirited by our oh so noble relatives’ terrible, bleak demise, that it is difficult to bring oneself to pursue a regular, pleasant occupation.25 One thing is consoling me here though, that despite the local, typically Jewish decadence - same as everywhere else, I’m sad to say - there still remain a few notable exceptions, who help us not to lose faith in the truly Jewish heart. Like the example of a certain Dr. Schütz, a lawyer, who has already sacrificed his entire and vast wealth for the emigrants, and who is joined by some other generous Jews who intensely and tirelessly work for our cause, day and night, and have already alleviated much sorrow and misery. How often my heart clenches up at the sight of those many women, mothers with small children, old men and grandmothers, having to wait so many hours until they are called upon.26 But despite it all, they are safe; they can breathe freely in our magnificently free country, in which the citizens also, except for the Henlein beasts,27 are wonderful and sympathetic human beings -- in addition to being brave and willing to defend their golden freedom to the last drop of their blood. We all, small and big, young and old, man or woman, we all will fight like the Bohemian Lions.


I shall conclude for now and ask you to write only to me again, as I will pass on your reports anyway.

Meanwhile, I am embracing you over mountains and sea,

Your sad, but happy28



Translated by Laura Jockusch and Monika Becker


1. Alternate translation: “ your direct and enthusiastic manner.”


2. This could be a (puzzling) reference to the town of Czernowitz, which had been the capital of the province of Bukovina, in the far eastern part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. A quarter to a third of the population were Jewish in the 1930s, when Czernowitz was in the Kingdom of Romania.

In the very next lines of this letter, however, Hugo writes about the fate of his sister, Gisa, and her husband, Poldi, who were then in Austria.


3. Referring to Gisella (aka Gisa) Jellinek Schlesinger (Hugo’s older sister/Nadja’s aunt) and Gisa’s husband, Leopold (aka Poldi).


4. Hugo’s first sarcastic reference here is to the aggressive demands and falsified, deceptive claims that Hitler and the Sudenten German political party leader, Konrad Henlein, made at the time for the Sudenten region of Czechoslovakia to be ceded by Czechoslovakia and unified with Nazi Germany. The second reference is to the unification/annexation of Austria with Nazi Germany, five months prior.


5. Hugo is referring to Kurt Schuschnigg, Chancellor of the Austrian Republic from 1934 - 38, being bullied by Hitler in February 1938 into agreeing to Hitler’s demands for a much greater Nazi presence in the government of Austria, and believing Hitler’s promise that he would reaffirm Austria’s sovereignty in exchange. Schuschnigg also followed a policy of appeasement regarding Hitler’s demands to cancel his (Schuschnigg’s) planned plebiscite to enable the Austrian public to vote on the issue of Austrian independence. Finally, Schuschnigg caved in to Hitler’s demands for his resignation as Chancellor, one day before the Nazis were met with absolutely no military resistance as they marched in to invade and take over Austria.


6. Hugo refers here to the Austrian “Buchtel,” which is a jelly-filled roll, made of yeast dough and baked in milk in the oven.


7. Possible alternate translation of “feierlichen”: festive.


8. Hugo is referring to his own father/ Nadja’s grandfather, Siegmund Jellinek, who was a Chief Cantor (titled in German as “Oberkantor“).


9. Hugo is referring to his first cousin, Arthur Jellinek, who was the son of Siegmund Jellinek’s brother, Eduard Jellinek.


10. Max and Siegfried Schafer were the brothers of Hugo’s mother, Berta Schafer Jellinek. It is not clear to which of Hugo’s “Schafer” cousins he is referring here, nor which ‘Schafers’ were then in Czechoslovakia, and which in Vienna. The four ‘Schafer‘ daughters of Max and Paulina Schafer were Frieda, Irma, Elsa and Gabriella. Siegfried and Charlotte Schafer’s only child was named Leonore Schafer (please see Biographies, and the 1952 letter by Leonore Schafer, for more information).


11. This “Berta” was the wife of Oskar Jellinek. Oskar was one of the three sons of Siegmund Jellinek’s sister, Jetti Jellinek.


12. Willi Jellinek was the only child of Oskar Jellinek, and thus Siegmund’s grand-nephew. As stated in the previous footnote, Oskar J. was a son of Siegmund J.‘s sister, and thus Siegmund J.‘s nephew and Hugo’s first cousin once removed.


13. Affectionate, Russianized nickname for Hugo’s daughter, Berta.


14. Hugo’s middle daughter, Berta, born in 1922, worked as a manicurist and hairdresser in Brünn.


15. Bethar (aka “Betar”), the activist Zionist youth movement, to which Nadja belonged. Betar was founded in 1923 in Riga, Latvia by Vladimir Jabotinsky and grew significantly in the 1930s, mainly in Eastern Europe.


16. Hugo Jellinek is referring to Julius Streicher, the notorious Nazi publisher (1923 - 1945) and editor (1923 - 1933) of the virulently anti-semitic newspaper Der Stürmer (The Attacker). It is interesting that by August 1938, Hugo had already recognized Streicher’s culpability as an extreme persecutor of the Jews. The Nuremberg International Trial of Major War Criminals came to this same conclusion after the war. In 1946, Streicher was sentenced to death and declared as guilty of crimes against humanity as those people who had actually carried out the mass killing of Jews, because “...he infected the German mind with the virus of anti-Semitism, and incited the German people to active persecution [of Jews] [the Jews’] murder and extermination…“ (from the tribunal’s judgement vs. Streicher; see for the full text of the tribunal’s judgement vs. Streicher).


17. Hugo refers here to Theresa Spitz for the first time in his extant letters.


18. Luschinka and Luisa are among Hugo’s affectionate, Russianized nicknames for his youngest daughter, Anna, born in 1923 or 1924, who had not yet come from Austria to live in Brünn.


19. Trudele is a diminutive name for Trude Nadel, born in 1937 to Hugo and Gisa’s (Gisella’s) younger sister, Anna Jellinek Nadel.


20. Alternate translations for “ganz verzweifelt”: in total despair; desperate.


21. Hollabrunn (aka Oberhollabrunn) was the town, northwest of Vienna, in which Siegmund and Berta J. had lived until the Nazis expelled them to Vienna. Hollabrunn is also where Siegmund J. had served as the Oberkantor and religion teacher of the synagogue for at least two decades.


22. “Lußinka (Luszinka) and Lußa (Lusza) were additional slight variations in spelling and pronounciation of Hugo’s affectionate nicknames for his youngest daughter, Anna. Poldi was the nickname for Leopold Schlesinger, Gisa’s husband.


23. Kurt Jellinek (Arthur Jellinek’s son/Siegmund Jellinek’s grand-nephew) wrote that “Kanitz is a small town in S. Moravia. It was a great Jewish community and our [Jellinek] roots have been there too.” Kurt J. also believed that Siegmund Jellinek’s sister, Jetti Jellinek, lived in Kanitz during the German occupation, before her deportation.


24. Alternate translation of Einreisebewilligung: entry permit.


25. Alternate translation of this sentence: “Unfortunately, we both are so depressed because of the terribly desperate situation of our noble relatives, that it is hard to pull oneself up to get everything in good order every day.”


26. Alternate translation of this last phrase: “...having to wait...until their names come up.” In any case, it seems likely that Hugo is referring here to the unfortunate refugees from Sudentenland, waiting for their turn to be helped.


27. “Henlein beasts,” alternatively translated as “Henlein brutes,” refers to (aforementioned) members of Konrad Henlein’s Sudeten-German separatist group, then called the Sudenten-German Party. Henlein and his followers instigated acts of deceptive, violent agitation and terrorist acts that were partly funded and advised by the Nazis from 1937 on.


28. Alternate translation: “Your sadly-happy Daddy”

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