Woman of the Day – Milena Jesenská

Green Party Women Celebrating Women’s History Month Day 10: Woman of the Day, Milena Jesenská #ForWomenAndPlanet

In March 1939, the German Wehrmacht moved into Prague and began its occupation of Czechoslovakia which would not end until the surrender of Germany following World War II.

Our woman of the Day, Czech journalist, writer, editor and translator Milena Jesenská was there to witness it and wrote about the experience. Whilst often remembered as one of Franz Kafka’s great loves due to his ‘Letters to Milena’, she is also remembered as one of the most prominent and brave journalists of the interwar period.

Born August 10 1896 to a dental surgeon and professor father and a mother from a wealthy German bourgeois family, Milena should have had a comfortable upbringing. However, whilst attending the prestigious high school Mirnerva, she developed a lifelong spirit of independence and nonconformity that eventually led her father to have her committed to a mental hospital when she began an affair with Jewish writer Ernst Pollak.

When Milena was released in March 1918, she married Polak, moved to Vienna and became estranged from her family. Whilst in Vienna, she began translating German texts into Czech and sending them to Czech newspapers and magazines.

It was through her husband that Milena she met Franz Kafka.  She then began working on a Czech translation of Kafka’s story The Stoker and their correspondence developed into a close relationship though they rarely met.

At 24yrs old, Milena started writing her first newspaper articles, contributing articles and later also editorials to women’s columns in some of the best known Prague dailies and magazines such as Tribuna, Národní listy and Lidové noviny.

In 1925 Milena divorced Ernst Pollak and moved back to Prague where she continued working as a journalist and as children’s books editor and translator. Notably, she wrote for a cultural magazine called Přítomnost (The Present). One of her first feature articles for the magazine was a commentary on the number of German emigrants who were fleeing National Socialism in Germany and were arriving in Prague.

Following the German occupation of Prague, Milena joined the underground resistance where she helped many Jewish and political refugees to emigrate. She also worked for an illegal magazine called V boj (Into Battle).

In November 1939, Milena was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned, first in Prague’s Pankrác and later in Dresden. When attending court, she was acquitted due to a lack of evidence but the authorities decided she should be deported to a concentration camp in Ravensbrück in Germany for “re-education”. Whilst at Ravensbrück, she met and befriended German author Margarete Buber-Neumann.

Whilst in the camp, Milena’s health began to deteriorate due to the stress and poor conditions and she tragically died there in 1944 at the age of 48.




https://www.encyclopedia.com/ Women’s History Month

To top