An Introduction to the Poetry of Irena Klepfisz
  • Joan Michelson


Irena klepfisz was born in 1941 in Warsaw, the only child of Rose Perczykow Klepfiz and the ghetto resistance fighter Michal Klepfisz, who died a hero and a martyr on 22 April 1943, the third day after the Uprising. After his death, Irena was removed from the Catholic orphanage in Warsaw, where she had been placed for her safety, and taken into the countryside. Reunited with her mother, she spent the rest of the war in the home of Polish peasants. Posing as Poles, speaking, when they spoke, only in Polish (Irena’s first language), they lived in vitual isolation until the end of the war. Following six months in Lodz, they emigrated to Sweden and from there, in 1949, to the United States. They settled in New York where, at the time of this writing, both reside — Rose uptown, in the Bronx, Irena downtown, on the edge of Brooklyn Heights. Independent women, they remain in daily contact by telephone keeping their all-but-extinguished family alive: Rose the seamstress who offers ‘originals and alterations’,2 and Irena the poet who has become ‘the keeper of accounts’.3


Corn Silk Polish Peasant Bullet Hole Fortieth Anniversary Hand Grenade 
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  1. 1.
    Irena Klepfisz, ‘Yom Hashoah, Yom Yerushalayim: A Meditation’, Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays, Speeches, and Diatribes (Portland, Oregon: Eighth Mountain Press, 1990) p. 134.Google Scholar
  2. 3.
    Klepfisz, ‘Bashert’, A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Poems Selected and New (1971–1990), (Portland, Oregon: Eighth Mountain Press, 1990), p. 198.Google Scholar
  3. 7.
    The Shorter Oxford English Dictionary, ed. L.T. Onions (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964).Google Scholar
  4. 12.
    Jane Marks, The Hidden Children: The Secret Survivors of the Holocaust (London: Judy Piatkus Ltd, 1994), p.281.Google Scholar
  5. 17.
    Primo Levi, If This is a Man (London: Orion Press, 1960), p.14.Google Scholar
  6. 24.
    Klepfisz, ‘Oyf keyver oves: Poland, 1983, Essays, p.95.Google Scholar
  7. 26.
    Robert Scholes, Structuralism in Literature (New Haven, Yale University Press, 1974) p.95.Google Scholar
  8. 27.
    Tzvetan Todorov, Facing the Extreme: Moral Life in the Concentration Camps (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1999), p.15.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Limited 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Joan Michelson

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