She was born in Czernowitz, at that time the second most important university center of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Between 1907 and 1919, she received her education in Vienna and Czernowitz, which became part of Romania after 1918. In 1919, she began studying literature and philosophy. In 1921, together with her friend and future husband Ignaz Ausländer, she left Bukovina and migrated to the US. There, she began writing poems.
In 1927, she returned home to take care of her sick mother. In 1931, she returned home again for the same reason. She left Czernowitz for Bucharest in 1936. In 1939, she emigrated again to the US but came back in the same year in order to take care of her sick mother. There in Czernowitz she published her first book; the greater part of the print run was destroyed by the Nazis in 1941, after they had occupied the city. As a Jew, she had to move into the ghetto. She remained there two years, plus another year in hiding so as not to be deported to the camps. In the ghetto, she got to know the poet Paul Celan, under whose influence she modernised her style. In 1944, the city was occupied by the Red Army. She left the country again, returning to New York. In 1967, she went to West Germany. From then on, she lived in Düsseldorf, where she died in 1988.