by Karla Hartl
Milena Jesenska was born in Prague on August 10, 1896. Jesenska's father Jan Jesensky was a dental surgeon and professor at the Charles University; her mother Milena Hejzlarova died when Milena was 16. Jesenska studied at Minerva, the first academic gymnasium for girls in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. After graduation from Minerva, she enrolled briefly at the Prague Conservatory and also at the Faculty of Medicine but abandoned her studies after two semesters. In 1918, she married Ernst Pollak, a Jewish intellectual and literary critic whom she met in Prague's literary circles, and moved with him to Vienna. The marriage, which led her to break off relations with her father for several years, was an unhappy one.
Since Pollak's earnings were initially inadequate to support the pair in the city's war-torn economy, Jesenska had to supplement their household income by working as a tutor and translator. In 1919, she came across a short story (The Stoker) by Prague writer Franz Kafka, and wrote him to ask for permission to translate it from German to Czech. The letter launched an intense and increasingly passionate correspondence. Jesenska and Kafka met twice: they spent four days in Vienna and a day in Gmünd. In the end, Kafka broke off the relationship, partly because Jesenska was unable to leave her husband, and their correspondence eventually ceased. They continued holding each other in great esteem, however, and both treasured the memories of their relationship which was in many respects unparalleled to any other in their lives.  Jesenska's translation of The Stoker was a first translation of Kafka's writings into Czech (and as a matter of fact, into any foreign language); later she translated two other short stories of Kafka and also texts by Hermann Broch, Franz Werfel, Upton Sinclair, and many others.
In Vienna, Jesenska also began to write herself, contributing articles and later also editorials to women's columns in some of the best known Prague dailies and magazines. For example, she contributed to Tribuna, and between 1923 and 1926, she wrote for Narodni listy, Pestry tyden, and Lidove noviny. In 1925, Jesenska divorced Pollak and moved back to Prague, where she later met and married avant-garde Czech architect Jaromir Krejcar. In Prague she continued working as journalist, writing for dailies and magazines, and also as children's books editor and translator. Some of her articles from the period were published in two separate collections by the Prague Publishing House Topic.
In the 1930s, Jesenska became attracted to communism (like many other Czech intellectuals of the period), but eventually abandoned her sympathies for the ideology altogether in 1936, when she grew aware of excesses of Stalinism.  In October 1934, her marriage ended - she gave a consent to divorce Krejcar so that he could marry a Latvian interpreter whom he met during his visit to the Soviet Union. Between 1938 and 1939, Jesenska edited the prestigious Czech magazine for politics and culture Pritomnost (The Presence), founded and published in Prague by the esteemed political commentator and democrat Ferdinand Peroutka. Here she wrote editorials and visionary commentaries on the rise of the NSDAP in Germany, the Anschluss of Austria to Nazi Germany and the possible consequences this was to have for Czechoslovakia. As the political situation grew more serious, so did the depth, foresight and power of her writing. After the occupation of Czechoslovakia by the German army, Jesenska organized the rescue of many Jewish and political refugees whom she hid in her appartment, fed, supplied with false papers, and helped to emigrate abroad, aided in her courageous efforts by her friend Joachim von Zedtwitz. She herself, however, decided to stay in her now occupied country, despite the possible consequences. In November 1939, she was arrested by the Gestapo and imprisoned first in Prague's Pankrac and later in Dresden. In October 1940, Jesenska was deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp in Germany. Here she provided moral and psychological support to other prisoners and befriended Margarete Buber-Neumann who wrote her first biography after the war. Jesenska died of kidney failure in Ravensbrück on May 17, 1944.Notes:
 Her father's family believed to descend from Jan Jesenius, the first professor of medicine at Prague's Charles University who was among the 27 Bohemian luminaries executed in the Old Town Square in Prague on June 21, 1621 for defying the authority of the Habsburgs. However, this part of the family history has been challenged as an unfounded hypothesis (Hockaday, 1997, 2; Markova-Kotykova, 1993, 17).
 Wagnerova, 1996, 33
 Wagnerova, 1996, Hockaday, 1997; disputed by Markova-Kotykova, 1993
 Hockaday, 1997; Jesenska's correspondence with Max Brod (Wagnerova, 1998).
 Dressler, 1982; Wagnerova, 1996; Markova-Kotykova, 1993
 Markova-Kotykova, 1993
 Dressler, 1982
 Hockaday, 1997, 155
 Dressler, 1982; Hockaday, 1997
 Hockaday, 1997
Anthologies of Jesenska's texts:
Published during her lifetime:
Published after her death:
Other relevant texts: