Naomi Replansky and Eva Kollisch

Naomi Replansky and Eva KollischNaomi Replansky and Eva Kollisch both began their literary activism in a factory. Born in the Bronx in 1918, Replansky toiled in factories, starting on an assembly line during World War II in the heyday of Rosie the Riveter, and eventually graduated to operating a lathe. Years later, she trained herself to become a pioneering computer programmer for not-for-profit organizations, starting with the earliest punch cards used by the first giant computers. This variegated background helped Replansky develop into an eloquent poet of the working class. She published her first poems in 1936, and the first collection of her work, Ring Song, was published by Scribner in 1952. Her 1973 poem “An Inheritance” reads in part:

‘Five dollars, four dollars, three dollars, two,
One and none and what do we do?’

This is the worry that never got said
But ran so often in my mother’s head

And showed so plain in my father’s frown
That to us kids it drifted down.

It drifted down like soot, like snow,
In the dream-tossed Bronx, in the long ago.

I shook it off with a shake of the head.
I bounced my ball. I ate warm bread.

I skated down the steepest hill.
But I must have listened, against my will:

When the wind blows wrong, I can hear it today.
Then my mother’s worry stops all play

And, as if in its rightful place,
My father’s frown divides my face.

For some decades, Replansky and Kollisch have shared their lives on the Upper West Side. Eva Kollisch, an American Jewish author and a professor emerita at Sarah Lawrence College, was born in Vienna in 1925. She was rescued from the Nazis on a 1939 Kindertransport to the United Kingdom, eventually arriving in America in 1940. Like Replansky, Kollisch started out working in factories during World War II, though she eventually became a specialist in German and comparative literature.

Kollisch published the memoir Girl in Movement in 2000, about her life as a young Viennese Jewish refugee in Staten Island. One review praises “…the marvel of her youthful, and continuing, commitment to social justice, and her search for more complex visions of freedom. Eva Kollisch could have been swept away by history: instead she turned to grapple with it.” In 2008 she published The Ground Under My Feet, a meditation on being a Holocaust survivor. Grace Paley described the book as “…beautifully written. It has more history in it than most historians give us.”

An activist for over half six decades, in anti-war, feminist and human rights causes, most recently Kollisch is a member of One by One, a small intergenerational group that practices dialogue with the enemy.




Interview by Esther Cohen and Rachel Bernstein, camera and edit by Ruth Sergel

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