Milena Jesenská

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Milena Jesenská

Milena Jesenská (born August 10, 1896 in Prague , Austria-Hungary ; died May 17, 1944 in Ravensbrück concentration camp ) was a Czech journalist , writer and translator ; she belonged to the closer circle of friends of the writer Franz Kafka .


Milena Jesenská attended the girls' high school "Minerva" in Prague and then studied medicine . After dropping out of her studies, she worked at the Prague Conservatory and frequented the Prague German-Jewish society, where she met Max Brod and Franz Werfel, among others . In 1917 she was admitted to a psychiatric clinic by her father, Jan Jesenský, because of her love affair with the Jewish bohemian Ernst Polak , where she remained imprisoned until she was 21 years old.

Immediately after her release she married Polak and moved with him to Vienna. There her husband resumed his bohemian life. One lived from odd jobs, especially Jesenskás, who taught Czech and worked as a journalist, since 1920 mainly for the Prague newspaper Tribuna . She earned her living not least from translations. Among other things, she translated Kafka's story Der Heizer and other of his prose texts from German into Czech in 1919 , whereupon her relationship with this writer deepened in 1920/21. The relationship, consisting mainly of letters and few encounters, resulted in an extensive correspondence - according to Willy Haas a "shocking romance novel, an orgy of despair, bliss, self-tearing and self-humiliation". Kafka finally ended the relationship in November 1920, whereupon the correspondence broke off abruptly. The friendly contact did not end until Kafka's death: two years later a few isolated letters were exchanged again, and at the end of his life Kafka gave her some of his diaries.

In 1923 a suicide attempt failed . Milena Jesenská took drugs during this time, and her husband was divorced. During this time she made friends with the writer Alice Rühle-Gerstel .

Milena Jesenská lived for a year with Franz Xaver Schaffgotsch at Alice in Friedewald-Buchholz near Dresden in 1925 and wrote in their magazines. On her return to Prague, she worked on the women's page in Národní listy (national papers ) and became a member of a group of avant-garde left - wing intellectuals, the Devětsil (butterbur). She worked on the avant-garde newspaper Pestrý týden (Colorful Week) and in 1926 published the anthology Paths to Simplicity. Her work focused on the coexistence of Czechs , Germans and Jews in Czechoslovakia . She wrote a series of reports on the social situation in Vienna for the Prague newspaper Tribuna , which she made known as a journalist. In addition, there were translations of texts by Franz Werfels , Kurt Landauer and Rosa Luxemburg .

In 1927 she married Jaromír Krejcar (1895–1950), a leading architect of the Prague avant-garde.

Jesenská suffered from arthritis in the knee. After the birth of her daughter Jana (1928–1981), the pain increased so much that she could only be treated with morphine , on which she soon became dependent. She lost her job because of a year-long hospital stay and fought against the addiction, initially unsuccessfully.

In 1931 Milena Jesenská joined the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia . She was expelled from this party in 1936 because of a critical statement about Stalinism . In a letter to Olga Scheinpflugová , Jesenská wrote: "The people from the communist apparatus are the worst thing I know in the world ... anyone who wants to think for themselves - will be eliminated immediately."

She became a commentator for the liberal-democratic cultural magazine Přítomnost (Present). In one of her first reports, entitled “Stranded People”, she described the arrival of German emigrants who had fled from National Socialism in Prague. She became friends with the exile and journalist William S. Schlamm , whose texts she translated for the magazine. A little later, after eight years of addiction to morphine, she managed to get rid of it within two weeks.

After the occupation by the National Socialist German Reich through the Munich Agreement and the subsequent destruction of the rest of the Czech Republic , she joined the anti-fascist Czechoslovak resistance in 1939 . She took up illegal work for the magazine V boj (In den Kampf) and organized the escape of Jews and Jewish and non-Jewish emigrants from Czechoslovakia. She helped functionaries of the KPTsch to hide from the Gestapo . In November 1939 she was arrested by the Gestapo and taken to the Dresden remand prison. A trial followed in Dresden, which ended in an acquittal . Nevertheless, she was deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp “for re-education” . Here it was given the number 4714 and, because of the number, the nickname "4711 - Kölnisch Wasser ". The Cologne artist Tanya Ury recalled this story as part of the video installation Kölnisch Wasser . In 2012, the Polish bohemist Anna Militz discovered 14 letters and receipts from prison to the family in an archive in Prague .

Margarete Buber-Neumann (1901–1989) describes in her book Milena, Kafka's friend the developing friendship between the two women and their last months in the Ravensbrück concentration camp. With this legacy, Buber-Neumann fulfilled Jesenská's last wish, who died on May 17, 1944 at the age of 47 in a concentration camp as a result of kidney surgery.

Your collected feature articles and reports came in the book edition Prager Hinterhöfe im spring (Wallstein Verlag) in February 2021 on the second place of the top 10 of the international German-language non-fiction best list. In terms of content, this collection of newspaper essays and reports confirms the intrinsic author value of the Prague journalist Milena Jesenská beyond references to Franz Kafka, says the reviewer for Deutschlandfunk.



  • Everything is life - features and reports 1919–1939. Edited and provided with a biographical sketch by Dorothea Rein . New Critique, Frankfurt am Main 1984, ISBN 3-8015-0192-2 ; New edition Goldmann, Munich 1999, ISBN 3-442-72499-6 .
  • I would have to answer for days and nights. Milena's letters. Edited by Alena Wagnerová . Bollmann, Mannheim 1996, ISBN 3-927901-79-2 , new edition by Fischer-TB 13913, Frankfurt am Main 199, ISBN 978-3-596-13913-2 .
  • Nad naše síly: Češi, Židé a Němci 1937–1939: články z týdeníku “Přítomnost”. Votobia, Olomouc 1997, ISBN 80-7198-233-4 .
  • Letters from prison. First published in: Neue Rundschau . Vol. 126 (2015), Issue 2, ISBN 978-3-10-809102-6 , pp. 16–41.
  • Prague backyards in spring. Features and reports 1919–1939. Edited by Alena Wagnerová. Translated from the Czech by Kristina Kallert. Wallstein, Göttingen 2020, ISBN 978-3-8353-3827-2 .


  • Margarete Buber-Neumann : Milena, Kafka's friend. Langen Müller, Munich 1977 (and 4th edition 2000), ISBN 3-7844-1680-2 .
  • Lucyna Darowska: Resistance and biography: the resistance practice of the Prague journalist Milena Jesenská against National Socialism (= Edition Politik. Volume 4), transcript, Bielefeld 2012, ISBN 978-3-8376-1783-2 (dissertation University of Gießen 2012, 528 p .).
  • Simone Frieling: She is out of my reach. Milena Jesenská and Franz Kafka. In: Simone Frieling: Poet couples. Let's find words ... With graphics by Simone Frieling. Blue Notes, Volume 88. Ebersbach & Simon, Berlin 2020, ISBN 978-3-86915-215-8 , pp. 11-39.
  • Mary Hockaday: Kafka, Love and Courage - The Life of Milena Jesenská. André Deutsch Verlag, London 1995, ISBN 0-233-98954-4 ; Fist american edition, Overlook Press, Woodstock, NY, ISBN 0-87951-751-4 (English).
  • Franz Kafka: Letters to Milena. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1987; New edition 2011, ISBN 978-3-596-25307-4 .
  • Marta Pelinka-Marková : Mýtus Milena. Milena Jesenská jinak. Primus, Prague 1993, ISBN 80-85625-14-8 (German: The Milena Myth ).
  • Alois Prinz : A living fire. The life story of Milena Jesenská. Beltz & Gelberg, Weinheim 2016, ISBN 978-3-407-82177-5 .
  • Steve Sem-Sandberg : Ravensbrück. Novel. Bender, Stockholm 2003, ISBN 91-0-010019-6 (Swedish).
  • Margret Steenfatt : Milena Jesenksá. Biography of a Liberation. European Publishing House, Hamburg 2002, ISBN 3-434-50215-7 .
  • Alena Wagnerová : Milena Jesenská. "All of my articles are love letters". Biography. Bollmann, Mannheim 1994, ISBN 3-927901-54-7 .
  • Alena Wagnerová: "She was a living fire." Milena Jesenská's letters from prison. In: New Rundschau . Vol. 126 (2015), Issue 2, pp. 7–15.


Web links

Individual evidence

  1. Margarete Buber-Neumann : Milena, Kafka's friend. P. 79.
  2. a b Alena Wagnerová : The great interpreter of small things. Milena Jesenská is mostly only known as a friend of Kafka. Now, for the first time, a large Czech edition reveals the dimension and importance of its writing. In: Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung of October 23, 2017, p. 13.
  3. a b c Christiana Puschak: Far ahead of her time: Milena Jesenska. For the 120th birthday of the Czech journalist, Kafka translator and anti-fascist. In: young world. August 12, 2016, No. 187, p. 15.
  4. Willy Haas: Afterword. In: Franz Kafka: Letters to Milena. Fischer, Frankfurt am Main 1952, p. 271.
  5. Bertram Kazmirowski: memories of Milena. In: Preview and Review . Issue 8, 2015, ZDB -ID 1192547-4 .
  6. Quoted from: Christiana Puschak: Far ahead of her time: Milena Jesenska. For the 120th birthday of the Czech journalist, Kafka translator and anti-fascist. In: young world . August 12, 2016, No. 187, p. 15.
  7. Přítomnost. October 27, 1937, translated by George Gibian under the title: Refugees from Hitler in Czechoslovakia, 1937–1939. Milena Jesenska. In: Cross currents. Edited by the Department of Slavic Languages ​​and Literatures, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Vol. 2 (1983), ISSN  0748-0164 , pp. 183-194, here pp. 185-187 (English; ).
  8. Alena Wagnerová : "She was a living fire." Milena Jesenská's letters from prison. In: New Rundschau. 2015.
  9. Doris Liebermann : Died 75 years ago - the journalist and Kafka translator Milena Jesenská. In: Deutschlandfunk , May 17, 2019, accessed on May 17, 2019 .
  10. ^ The "Non-fiction books of the month March 2021". In:, February 24, 2021, accessed February 25, 2021.
  11. Angela Gutzeit: Milena Jesenská: "Prague Backyards in Spring" - The Radicality of the Heart. Review. In: January 25, 2011, accessed February 25, 2021 .
  12. ^ Milena Jesenská Fellowships for Journalists. In:, accessed on April 20, 2021.
  13. Letters from Milena Jesenská “A loving woman and mother”. Alena Wagnerová in conversation with Burkhard Müller-Ullrich. In: Deutschlandfunk , June 21, 2015, accessed on April 21, 2021 (interview with biographer and editor Alena Wagnerová).
  14. Richard Kämmerlings : Letters from the concentration camp. In: . June 15, 2015, accessed April 21, 2021.
  15. Volker Weidermann : Woman without a world order . In: Der Spiegel . No. 26 , 2015, p. 138 ( online ).
  16. Jana Krejcarova (1928–1981), married Jana Černá, was the daughter of Milena Jesenská and the architect Jaromír Krejcar .