September 2-5, 1939 (?)1


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


Karl Jellinek
                     [New York City, USA]

Siegmund Jellinek (father of KJ)
Berta S. Jellinek (mother of KJ)
Gisela Jellinek Schlesinger
(sister of KJ)
                               [Vienna, then-Germany]
Karl has read about the outbreak of war in the New York Times, but he maintains his hope for his family’s reunion in America. He is studying English and hopes to earn more money soon and be able to take better care of his second child. He chides Gisela for her inappropriate sentimentality during “this worldwide inferno.” Also, family news, including re: Max’s affidavit and Michaela’s good development.


. . . that the world war has broken out. I read in the New York Times: before the war, the world was full of hope, now the world is full of despair. This sentence, so true in general, does not apply to us, because there is already a ray of hope on the horizon, and it is constantly approaching, growing and growing until it is a broad ribbon tying together all the scattered parts of the Jellinek family and letting them live a new and happy life in free America. May God the almighty bless us and give us strength. -Amen.-- Now, to you, my dearest parents: I am happy that you are well, and that the sea’s troubled waters reach you only in a diminished way. You are healthy and that is an enormous reassurance for me, otherwise, I would hardly be able to endure this severe fight with such strong nerves. Believe me, it is not easy, and only my strong trust in God and my fatalism help me overcome all the difficulties. I am now learning English with the brother of the cousin who has a language school,2 and I hope to be able to provide better support for the new Jellinek when I become an official in some office.3_ Marvelous Gisela, whose letters are so wonderful, should not be immediately offended when I say of one of her letters, that this one was not like the ones I am used to receiving from her. Today, feelings and sentimentality are luxuries that one cannot afford; otherwise, one would lose one’s mind in this worldwide inferno. - - - - Do not be so worried about Miron’s machines; the whole matter was a dead end when Anna and Miron had to leave Vienna without them and the trustee demanded payment. I predicted it, but you were not willing to believe me and wasted so much money and energy on it.

- - - As I read about Best4 in the paper, I thanked God for saving us from great danger. That would have been all we needed. What luck that I maintained such presence of mind.5 That Oskar Hirschensohn6 returned home safely gave me whole-hearted joy. He is such a decent and wonderful person that he deserves for life to still be good to him. On the other hand, I am not interested in any social contact with Erna here in New York. Before I quickly end my letter - I am afraid that Gisela won’t be able to read the letter all at once - I ask you to convey the most important [parts] of my letter to Anna and Max, whom I have already written three times. Besides that, I would like Gisela to write me the essence of Anna and Max’s, as well as Hugo’s letters. Please write to dear Max that he can expect his affidavit soon. I very much thank dear Hugo for the nice picture which is a very good likeness of him. I hope very much that you will read this letter in good health and with pleasure. This past Sunday, we were unfortunately not able to visit sweet Micherle,7 because some child there got sick with mumps. The child [Micherle] is developing wonderfully indeed; she already speaks English very well, and if one takes a toy from her, she hits strongly; she’ll make her way. Yet, she is definitely everybody’s darling in the home and really a bright ray of sunshine.

              A thousand heartfelt kisses to everyone,       your loyal Karlo

Karla will write a separate letter tomorrow.


Translated by Laura Jockusch


1. Typed end page of letter fragment, undated by author. Our estimation of date is based on the opening phrase about the outbreak of world war.

2. It is not clear who he means, because “the brother of the cousin” (feminine in the German original) is also a cousin.

3. Karl is referring to the forthcoming birth of his son, Bernhard. Karl hopes that he will earn more money to give his son better material support by the time he is born in October.

4. It is possible that Karl is referring to Werner Best, a Nazi official, a senior member of the SS and the Sichereitspolizei (Security Police). From September 1939 to June 1940, Werner Best headed “Section II of the Reichssicherseitshauptamt” (Reich Security Main Office). He was later accused of complicity in the murder of Jews and of the Polish Intelligentsia in occupied Poland. Laura Jockusch, a respected scholar and teacher of Holocaust history, wrote this footnote ca. 2002, when she was a graduate student. She added that she did not know which particular incident Karl was referring to, and that she very much doubted that Karl could have already known in September 1939 about the killing of Jews and Polish intelligentsia through American newspapers.

5. Possible alternative translation of this phrase: “What luck that I was so quick-witted.”

6. Oskar Hirschensohn was the brother of Martha Hirschensohn Jellinek. Martha was married to Siegfried Jellinek, Karl's brother.

7. “Micherle” is a diminutive, affectionate name for Michaela, the first child of Karl and Karla. Michaela was born in Vienna in August 1937. Michaela stayed in a ‘live-in’ group nursery home during the first year and a half after the family’s escape to New York City from Vienna, because Karl and Karla had to work very long hours to earn enough money to survive.

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