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On the evening of 15 December I watched  ‘A celebration of Jewish radicalism’, with Alexei Sayle, Leon Rosselson, Naomi Wimborne-Idrissi, David Rosenberg, Andrew Feinstein and Barnaby Raine. Organised by Red Labour, I found it moving, education and inspiring – the event is at:

The most moving contribution was the reading of a poem by Irena Klepfisz, (which can also be found in the current issue of Jewish Socialist). Irena was born in the Warsaw Ghetto and smuggled to safety with her mother when she was two and a half years old. Her father Michał who made weapons for the resistance fighters, took arms back into the Ghetto just before the Nazis entirely destroyed it, along with the few fighters left. He knew that if he went in at that point, he wouldn’t survive. He died in the Warsaw Ghetto on 20 April 1943. Irena, a remarkable woman, now lives in New York.

Der fremder in der fremd

by Irena Klepfisz

Gedenkst? Do you remember
when you were a stranger among strangers

a fremder on papirn a stranger without papers?

Gedenkst di frages? those endless questions?

Ver zayt ir? Fun vanen kumt ir?
who are you? where are you from?
why are you here and not there?

ver zaynen geven ayere shkheynim?
who were your neighbors? where was the school?
what work did you do? what can you do here
that you couldn’t do there?

Nokh amol for the third fourth fifth time
Ver zayt ir? Fun vanen kumt ir?
who are you? where are you from?
why are you here and not there?

Ver iz der man? ver iz di froy?
who is this man? who is this woman?
Un di papirn? and their papers?

un dos kind? and this child?
did you find it here? or bring it from there?
do you have a passport? for him? for her?
farn kind that one with the dark hair?

Nokh amol for the tenth eleventh
twelfth time
Ver zayt ir? Fun vanen kumt ir?
who are you? where are you from?
why are you here and not there?

who do you know here? who did you know there?
where will you sleep here? how did you sleep there?
un ayere khaloymes:
what do you dream of here? what did you dream of there?
where will you work here? what work did you do there?
and why can’t you just work there?

vu iz di vize di grine karte der pasport
visa? green card? passport? photo? from here and from there?

and why did you cut your hair?

un dos kind? and why did you bring
this child here and not leave it there?

Nokh amol for the eighteenth nineteenth twentieth time
ver zayt ir? Fun vanen kumt ir?
farvos zayt ir do? un nisht geblibn dortn?
why are you here? and why didn’t you just stay there?

The poem speaks volumes to us at a time when hundreds of thousands are fleeing from war, famine and oppression. And let’s not forget that almost 300 asylum seekers including 36 children have died trying to cross the Channel to the UK in the past 20 years. The Institute of Race Relations research, published in November and reported in the Guardian on 29 October, details the cases of 292 people who have died trying to cross by vehicle, tunnel and over the water since 1999.

As the Institute of Race Relations Vice-Chair Frances Webber said, “These deaths are not ‘natural’ nor ‘tragic accidents’ but man-made, created by policies which do not merely close borders but also erect ever more obstacles to safe travel for the most vulnerable.”

In 2021 their struggle for freedom is also ours.