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Milena Jesenská (1896–1944)

Author of De weg naar eenvoud

Includes the names: Milena Jesenska, Milena Jesenská

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(yid)VIAF:19695848 (yivo)

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Milena Jesenská was born in Prague, now in the Czech Republic, then part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Her father was a dentist and professor of medicine at Charles University. Her mother died when Milena was 13. She studied at Minerva, the first gymnasium (high school) for girls in the empire. After graduation, she enrolled briefly at the Prague Conservatory and at medical school, but abandoned her studies after a few semesters. In 1918, over the objections of her conservative Catholic father, she married Ernst Pollak, a Jewish intellectual, translator, and writer. He introduced her to other intellectuals and writers such as Franz Kafka, Max Brod, and Franz Werfel. The couple moved to Vienna. She worked as a Czech tutor and as a journalist for Prague newspapers. In 1919, she wrote to Kafka asking for permission to translate one of his short stories from German into Czech. This letter launched an increasingly passionate correspondence. Kafka broke off the relationship abruptly in 1920. However, he turned over his diaries to Milena at the end of his life. Later she translated two other short stories by Kafka and also works by Hermann Broch, Franz Werfel, Upton Sinclair, and many others. In 1925, she divorced Pollak and moved back to Prague, where she later met and married avant-garde architect Jaromír Krejcar, with whom she had a daughter. She became a Communist, but left the party after the Moscow show trials of 1936. She continued working as a journalist, children's books editor, and translator. Some of her articles from this period were published in two separate collections. She edited the Czech political and cultural magazine Přítomnost (The Presence), for which she also wrote editorials and commentary on subjects such as the rise of Nazism in Germany and the Anschluss of Austria. After the invasion and occupation of Czechoslovakia by Germany in World War II, she joined an underground resistance movement and helped many Jewish and political refugees to escape the country. In 1939, she was arrested by the Gestapo and deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. Here she became a close friend of Margarete Buber-Neumann, who later wrote her biography. Milena Jesenská died in Ravensbrück in 1944.
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