Hans Joseph Pinkus’s great-grandfather had married into the Fränkel family in Neustadt, Upper Silesia, in the 19th century. The two families joined forces in running the “S. Fränkel” Company, a successful textile factory that became one of the world’s largest manufacturers of linen. Under normal circumstances, Hans Joseph might have followed three generations of Pinkuses in running the affairs of the company, but he was only 16 years old and in boarding school when it was “Aryanized.” On October 20th, 1938, his stepmother, Lili, wrote him a letter to let him know that his father was about to quit and that she would follow him. She didn’t let on as to whether “cooking and ironing at home” was an attractive alternative to her and kept her feelings to herself.
The importance of personal correspondence for a family that was scattered all over is shown by that of Lili Pinkus and her relatives. Through weekly letters, for example, she kept in touch with her 16-year-old stepson, Hans Joseph, nicknamed Pippo, who was going to school in her home town of Brünn (Brno), Czechoslovakia. The same regularity, however, was expected of him. Her letter from October 10th demonstrates what it must have meant when his replies were delayed: “Infinite relief” is how she describes what she felt when, after a long time, two postcards from the 16-year-old finally arrived. Lili Pinkus writes to her stepson about the everyday life of their family. However, she omits the worries with which she and her husband must have been struggling. The family’s textile factory in Neustadt, Upper Silesia (“S. Fränkel”), was one of the largest manufacturers of linen in the world. Lili Pinkus’ husband, Hans Hubert, had been in charge of the family business since 1926. But now, the “Aryanization” of the company was imminent.
The Jewish Telegraphic Agency described the situation of Austrian refugees in Czechoslovakia with far-sightedness. If none of their precarious circumstances changed (work ban, impoverishment, missing prospects…) the situation could soon become “a psychological problem as well as an economic and political one.” The JTA estimated that in the middle of September 1938 there were more than 1,000 refugees in Czechoslovakia, most of them in Brno, less than 50 kilometers from the Austrian border. Now a police measure stipulated a bail of 2,000 Czech crowns (70 dollars) for persons who had already spent more than two months in Czechoslovakia. Otherwise they would face deportation. Who could pay this money on their behalf was completely unclear. Neither the Jewish community of Brno nor the League of Human Rights had the means to do so.
It was under adventurous circumstances that Gisella Jellinek made her way to Palestine in June 1938. As part of a group of several hundred youths, she was smuggled into the area of the Mandate. The moment she came ashore in Palestine, she had to make use of the Hebrew language skills she had acquired at the Zionist agricultural training camp in Austria, in order to avoid being identified as an illegal immigrant by the British authorities. Roughly two months after her arrival, Gisella, who now called herself Nadja, turned 18. In this belated birthday note, her sister Berta wishes her “heroism, courage, and to be a good Haverah (kibbutz member).”
Hugo Jellinek was proud of his daughter Gisella, who had become a glowing Zionist during Hakhsharah and just months before had immigrated to Palestine as part of a group of daring youngsters. For her 18th birthday, not only did he send his first-born daughter congratulations, he also shared his thoughts about current events with her. From his new vantage point in Brünn/Brno (Czechoslovakia), where he had fled from Vienna after a warning, German maneuvers alongside the Czechoslovakian border were worrying him. But he was convinced that, unlike in the case of Austria, the Wehrmacht would face fierce opposition. He felt very bitter about the suspicion of and lack of solidarity with needy Jewish refugees among wealthier members of the Jewish community in Brno. Moreover, he was greatly worried by the eviction notices Austrian Jews were receiving, among them his relatives. Among all the worry and complaint was a silver lining, an acquaintance with a woman.
Hugo Jellinek was a man of many talents. The outbreak of WWI forced him to quit medical school in Vienna. As a soldier, he was severely wounded in Samarkand and fell in love with his nurse, who later became the mother of his three daughters. The couple settled down in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. His young wife having died in 1926, he fled the Soviet Union in 1930 and ultimately returned to Vienna, where he utilized his knowledge of 8 languages as a translator and also worked as a freelance journalist. Thanks to a warning about impending arrest by the Nazis, he was able to escape to Brünn (Czechoslovakia) in June 1938. His eldest daughter, eighteen year-old Gisella Nadja, departed for Palestine the same day. In this colorful letter, Hugo shows fatherly concern for Nadja’s well-being, but also talks at length about the hardship he himself has faced as a refugee and reports that his cousin’s son is interned at the Dachau Concentration Camp. He mentions with gratification what he calls the “League,” probably referring to the aid center of the “League for Human Rights,” which was looking after the refugees, defying Hitler’s sinister goals. Ultimately, however, the most important thing for him was the fight for a country of one’s own.
Lilly Popper (later Lilian Singer) was born in 1898 into a German-speaking family in Brünn (Brno). After graduation from the Gymnasium (high school), she began medical school in Vienna, later transferring to Berlin. There, in 1923, she got her driver’s license, which was just beginning to become socially acceptable for women. After a longer interruption, during which she worked for her father’s business and for a company in Amsterdam, she went back to school and in 1933 graduated from the Friedrich Wilhelm University in Berlin, which had been accepting women as guest auditors since 1892 (and as full-time students since 1908), an opportunity initially seized by a disproportionately large number of Jewish women. With the “Law against the Overcrowding of German Universities” of April 1933, the Nazis limited the access of both Jews and women to higher education, but these regulations did not apply to foreigners. After graduation, Lilian returned to Czechoslovakia. In 1938, she was a resident in surgery at a teaching hospital in Prague. The suitcase shown in the photograph accompanied her on her many journeys.
Section 17 of the Third Supplementary Decree on the Reich Citizenship law (Reichsbürgergesetz), issued on June 14, called for marking Jewish businesses at a date yet to be determined. The Nazis lost no time. According to this article by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, days later, the word “Jew” and Nazi slogans were smeared on Jewish shop windows throughout Berlin in an organized fashion, with the same red, hard-to-remove oil paint used everywhere. There could be no doubt that the action was carried out with blessings from above. While no opposition from the non-Jewish population is recorded, the correspondent does point out that unlike in Vienna and in less affluent parts of Berlin, the crowd on Kurfürstendamm looked on quietly, without major enthusiasm. Tension among Jews was intensified by reports of plans to build labor camps where Jews apprehended in recent raids were to be put to work.
Hans Joseph Pinkus was a direct descendant of Samuel Fränkel, founder of a textile factory in Neustadt (Upper Silesia), which for a while was the primary employer in the entire region and one of the world’s foremost producers of linens. His grandfather, Max, had been a personal friend and patron of the Nobel Prize-winning author Gerhart Hauptmann. His great-uncle, the scientist Paul Ehrlich, had been a Nobel laureate, too. Lili, Hans Joseph’s stepmother, was hardly intimidated by this pedigree. In this letter, written on June 8, 1938, she gives him a major dressing down for having neglected his correspondence with his parents and sternly inquires whether he flunked his exam in the Czech language. At this point, 16 year-old “Pipo,” as the family called him, was staying with his step-grandmother in Brünn (Brno, Czechoslovakia) and attending school there. His parents and half-sisters lived in Neustadt: the directorship of the the S. Fränkel company had been handed down to male members of the Pinkus family for several generations and was now held by his father, Hans Hubert.