For most of us, it is almost impossible to comprehend the ferocity and regularity with which life was upended during the first half of the 20th century. Plague and conflict emerged on an epic scale, again and again. Loss and restriction were routine; disaster was its own season. At 101, Naomi Replansky, a poet and labor activist, has endured all of it. Born in her family’s apartment on East 179th Street in the Bronx in May 1918, her arrival in the world coincided with the outset of the Spanish flu.
Both Eva and Naomi experienced anti-Semitism at a young age. Eva, who was raised in a family of wealthy Jewish intellectuals outside Vienna, recalls being beaten by a group of children for being a “dirty Jew’’ when she was 6. During her childhood in the Bronx, Naomi was privy to the fascist radio broadcasts of Father Coughlin, which were always emanating from the open windows of East Tremont during the summer. Her grandparents had escaped the pogroms in Russia, coming to America at the turn of the century when the habits of immigrants — considered filthy and ignorant — were continually blamed for the spread of disease