These words are dedicated to those who died . . . These words are dedicated to those who survived . . .
Poet, feminist, lesbian, Jew, child survivor of the Holocaust--all of those descriptions fit Irena Klepfisz, who was born in Warsaw, Poland, in 1941. Her father escaped deportation to Treblinka, found his way back to the Warsaw ghetto, and lost his life heroically in the spring uprising of 1943. Her mother managed to survive and was reunited with her daughter after Irena had been hidden by Catholic nuns. In 1949 they emigrated to the United States. Klepfisz attended public schools in New York City, graduated from the City College of New York, and took her Ph.D. in English literature at the University of Chicago.
For years Klepfisz has taught English, creative writing, Yiddish, and women's studies as well as leading workshops on feminism, homophobia, Yiddish culture, antisemitism, and problems in the Middle East. She has not shied away from controversial issues. Active in both the Jewish and lesbian/feminist communities, she continues to raise serious questions related to Jewish identity, the Holocaust, and feminism. In addition to being a founder of Conditions, a feminist periodical emphasizing the writing of lesbians, her literary credits include Dreams of an Insomniac: Jewish Feminist Essays, Speeches and Diatribesand A Few Words in the Mother Tongue: Poems Selected and New ( 1971- 1990).
One of Klepfisz's best-known works is a poem called "Bashert." Its title, a Yiddish word, evokes senses of inevitability and fate. Divided into two parts, the poem grieves, protests, and teaches all at once. Although never mentioned directly, the Holocaust shadows every line: "These words are dedicated to those who died. . . . These words are