Fania Feldman Kruger, poet, was born on March 8, 1893, in Sevastopol, the Crimea, the daughter of Chaim and Sarah (Schulman) Feldman. Chaim Feldman was a rabbi; because of the family's faith, Fania was denied entrance to the Gymnasia three times before she was admitted. As a child she witnessed a murder committed by Cossack troops and saw her father after they had beaten him. She and her sister became partisans in the political underground during the revolution of 1905, and out of fear for their safety the Feldmans immigrated to the United States in 1908. The family settled in Fort Worth, where Fania learned to speak English. On March 24, 1912, she married Sam Kruger. In 1913 the couple moved to Wichita Falls, where Kruger opened a jewelry and antique store, and Fania became active in a Jewish women's group and the local literary society. The couple had two children. After Sam died in 1952, Fania moved to Austin.
Her experiences in Russia inspired her poetry and were the basis for a lifelong commitment to human rights. When the University of Texas at Austin prohibited soprano Barbara Smith from performing in its production of Dido and Aeneas because she was black, Kruger wrote to protest, comparing the action to her exclusion from school in Russia because of her faith. Her poetry, which described Czarist cruelty and Jewish life and customs, expressed a concern for humane action among all people. She published three collections of poetry, Cossack Laughter (1938), The Tenth Jew (1949), and Selected Poems (1973). The Saturday Review called The Tenth Jew "simple, eloquent, and rich in the poetic tradition of the Jew." Kruger's poetry was also published in Southwest Review, Crisis, American Guardian, American Hebrew, Texas Quarterly, and the Year Book of the Poetry Society of Texas. One poem, "Peasant's Pilgrimage to Kiev," was translated into Russian and published in Moscow. A short story, "To a Young Mother," was published in the October 1960 issue of Redbook magazine and was produced and repeatedly televised in Austin between 1965 and 1970. Kruger narrated and appeared in the film as a grandmother observing a young woman with two children. In 1969 the University of Cincinnati commissioned violinist, conductor, and composer Frederic Balazs, director of the Philharmonia Orchestra, to set "The Tenth Jew" to music.
Fania Kruger won several awards for her work. Among them were first place for the best poem of the year from the Poetry Society of America for "Passover Eve" in 1946 and the Lola Ridge award from the same society in 1947 for "Blessing the New Moon." The Poetry Society of Texas awarded her the Clementine Dunne Award for "Son of Tomorrow" in 1950; she also won first place for poetry in 1956 from the New York City Writer's Conference. She was a member of the poetry societies of England, America, Texas, and Austin and of the Texas Institute of Letters. She was a frequent public speaker and often gave readings of her work.
Perhaps because she had once been denied access to school, education remained important to her. She studied briefly at Harvard, the University of Colorado, and the University of Texas. She also studied Russian at Brandeis University and at Middlebury College with hope of becoming a translator for the United Nations. In 1959 she returned to the Soviet Union for the first time in fifty years and visited Moscow and Yalta, but was not permitted to go to her birthplace, Sevastopol, probably because it had become the site of a Soviet naval base. Kruger was surprised by her reception in Russia as a celebrity. She was interviewed by press, radio, and television journalists, given the use of a chauffeured car, and was one of a selected group to take an inaugural airline flight to Yalta. Asked repeatedly if Russian life were superior to life in the United States, she replied that it was not. She suffered a minor heart attack and spent three days recovering before returning home.
She became known internationally as well as in Texas and corresponded with a variety of writers and editors in literary circles. She knew Langston Hughes well enough to trade poems with him and to send him her homemade strudel from time to time. Fania Kruger died in Austin on July 16, 1977, and was buried in Temple Beth Israel Cemetery there.