Karen Gershon

From early childhood, poet Karen Gershon expected to settle in Israel, but the chaos of WWII sent her in an entirely different direction. Born Kaethe Löwenthal, Gershon studied Hebrew and joined the Youth Aliyah movement at her parents’ encouragement, expecting to escape anti-Semitic Germany for Palestine. Instead, after Kristallnacht, she was sent on a kindertransport to England in 1938 with her two older sisters. One sister continued to Palestine in 1939 and the other died in England in 1943, leaving Gershon, whose parents had meanwhile been deported to the Riga concentration camp, completely alone in England. Slowly, she taught herself English and published her first poetry collection, The Relentless Year, in 1959, taking inspiration from her father’s name (Paul Gershon-Löwenthal) for her pen name. Alongside her poetry, she wrote several accounts of her experiences as a refugee, most notably We Came as Children: A Collective Autobiography in 1966. She finally realized her dream of travelling to Israel in 1967, but Israeli audiences were unreceptive to her work. In 1973 she returned to England, where she continued to write poetry and fiction that superimposed her current joyful life on her experiences of exile and the loss of her family in the Holocaust.


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As a young girl, Karen Gershon (1923 – 1993) was sent from Nazi Germany to England on the Kindertransport. As an adult, she documented the trauma this experience engendered for herself and her fellow child refugees in We Came as Children: A Collective Autobiography (1966), which sparked extensive comment and established her literary reputation in England.

Institution: Naomi Shmuel.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Karen Gershon." (Viewed on January 23, 2021) <https://jwa.org/people/gershon-karen>.


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