Tachovské náměstí, then walk up Chlumova Street to the corner house on the right.
Milena Jesenská (1896-1944) lived the first five years of her life in this house. The Jesenský family lived in an apartment on the first floor overlooking the square with its fruit and vegetable market. Right next to their residence was Milena Jesenská’s father’s dental office. However, as his social status improved and he became a professor at Charles University, the family left proletarian Žižkov and moved to a better address in the center of Prague. Milena Jesenská graduated from the renowned Prague Minerva girls’ high school, and after graduation rebelled against her father’s wish that she should study medicine. Later, she again revolted against her father’s will as she listened to her heart and married Ernst Pollack then followed him to Vienna. After translating one of Franz Kafka’s short stories into Czech, she met the author and had a short relationship with him. Kafka wrote her letters that later appeared as Letters to Milena. The marriage with Pollack broke up and she married a second time, Jaromír Krejcar, an architect, but this marriage was again unsuccessful. Milena Jesenská lived a courageous and adventurous life, but also one blighted by illness and addiction.
Milena Jesenská’s testament of hope is linked to the following events in the life of the famous journalist. In 1936, when she learned from her former husband Krejcar of Stalin’s crimes, she resigned her membership of the Communist Party - in itself a brave act. Unlike many others she did not emigrate, did not waver in her convictions and did not hesitate to express her opinions on Hitler’s aggression. She was also able to see the problems of the Sudeten border region of Czechoslovakia from both sides of the conflict. When Ferdinand Peroutka hired her for his weekly newspaper, Přítomnost, she was finally able to move from so-called “women’s issues” and become a brilliant political journalist.
Only shortly before the Munich Conference in September 1938, she still hoped for political reconciliation. She demonstrated conclusively how intimidation of the German minority by the Czech majority led to radicalization: “If a person is to understand that the democratic state is more favorable to them than the totalitarian state, we need to let them know, feel and experience that they have a role here.” This statement against the bullying of Sudeten Germans by Czech authorities is no less strong when applied to the difficult situation of ethnic and social groups in the region today. In an October 1938 report, written after the Munich Agreement, Jesenská called for practical help for the German Social Democrats (cf. Doreen Warriner) who were forced to emigrate from the Sudetenland to the interior of Bohemia. Here she highlights the difference between forced “appeasement” and real peace and reconciliation: “We read in the newspapers that everyone recognizes how Czechoslovakia sacrificed itself for world peace. Wrong. We did not, because the sacrifice that occurred was against our will.” During the war, she was involved in working against the German occupation. She wrote for the underground magazine, V boj, helped refugees escape abroad, and her apartment became a temporary asylum for Jewish and political refugees from Germany, Austria and other countries. Soon after the arrest of Ferdinand Peroutka, the Gestapo also arrested her for her political views. While in the concentration camp she worked in the hospital there, supporting and comforting her fellow prisoners, who called her Mother Milena. She died of kidney failure at the camp hospital in Ravensbrück. Just like Přemysl Pitter and Olga Fierz, the institution of Yad Vashem placed her among the Righteous among Nations. The Czech-German Future Fund awards the Milena Jesenská Prize "for a German or Czech contribution, showing civic courage and increasing multicultural understanding or tolerance.”
- Milena Jesenská: The Journalism of Milena Jesenská: A Critical Voice in Interwar Central Europe. Edited and translated by Kathleen Hayes. NY-Oxford, Berghahn 2003
- Margaret Buber-Neumann: Milena: The Story of a Remarkable Friendship. Translated by Ralph Manheim. NY, Schocken Books 1989
- Franz Kafka: Letters to Milena. Translated by Philip Boehm. NY, Schocken Books 2015
From Milena Jesenská’s birthplace it’s about five minutes to the next stop on the Trail. Go through the square with the statue of Jaroslav Hašek and along Milíčova Street, cross the tram tracks to St. Procopius Church, and turn right into Vlkova Street. After less than one hundred meters you will find yourself facing the school attended by Jaroslav Seifert, with a memorial plaque on the corner of the building.