“I see you more clearly, the movements of your body, your hands, so quick, so determined, it's almost a meeting, although when I try to raise my eyes to your face, what breaks into the flow of the letter...is fire and I see nothing but fire.” ~Franz Kafka, in a letter to Milena Jesenská
Milena Jesenká was a Czech journalist, writer and translator who married Jewish literary critic Ernst Pollak. Her father put her in an insane asylum for nine months to try to deter the union, but the two ended up wed and she in an unhappy marriage. Trying to supplement her income, she met Kafka while working as a translator. Initially, she had discovered Kafka’s short story, The Stoker, and asked him if she could translate it from German into Czech. He agreed and she became the first translator of his work into Czech and any foreign language for that matter. Their relationship was conducted mainly through letters which they first exchanged in German. He later insisted that she write in Czech so that he could capture her whole persona through her native tongue. Kafka and Milena met in person only twice, the longest span was for four days in Vienna. He eventually broke off the correspondence because Milena was unable to leave her husband. After Kafka’s death, she published an obituary in Národni Listy saying that he was “condemned to see the world with such blinding clarity that he found it unbearable and went to his death.” After the annexation of the Sudetenland, Milena worked to help her Jewish friends escape Czechoslovakia. She was later captured and deported to the Ravensbrück concentration camp, where she died three weeks before D-Day. Today, in Prague, Café Milena is named after her.
Photo: Milena Jesenská