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May 3, 2013 2:49 pm
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Canadian Woman Comes to Terms With Her Jewish Identity 70 Years Later

avatar by Zach Pontz

A watchtower at the memorial site of Buchenwald. Photo: German Federal Archives.

An 86-year-old Canadian woman is finally embracing her Jewish heritage after nearly seventy years of hiding it.

Mary Gale, a Holocaust survivor, has written a memoir which traces her time as Miriam Zimmerman, a happy girl growing up in a middle-class Jewish family in Lodz, Poland, to Mary Gale, gentile Canadian.

“It is hard for to me to explain why I kept my Jewish identity secret for so long but the thing is, I became paranoid, and it got to the point during the war where I couldn’t even think of being Jewish because being Jewish meant being dead — they were the same thing to me,” Mary Gale told Canada’s The National Post.

“It got to the point that, even today, when I had six teeth pulled out at the dentist I refused the anesthetic because to take a needle was to never come back. And that was what being Jewish meant to me — it meant never coming back.

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“I saw so many horrible things. I saw so many dead people. It is amazing what seeing these things can do to a mind. I knew I was safe here in Canada. But I just couldn’t say I was Jewish.”

Gale was able to survive the war by posing as a young gentile woman, her blonde hair and blue eyes not hurting her ruse.

“Nobody thought I could be Jewish because I looked so Gentile,” Mary says. “I was only ever stopped by the Germans once.”

Most of her family members, including her father, were killed during the Holocaust. She was eventually sent to Buchenwald concentration camp along with her mother Rosa and sister, Helen, as a Polish political prisoner. She weighed 80 pounds at the time of liberation and, in the months ahead, would fall in love with Arthur Gale, a Canadian charged with running their displaced persons camp.

From there on out she would become Mary Gale and, besides Arthur, never told a soul that she was Jewish. Not even her son, Tom, who, after a terrible car accident found religion, converted to Judaism, changed his name to Gershon and moved to Israel where, to this day, he leads an orthodox life.

Then during a trip that Gale took back to Warsaw for her 80th birthday: “I stood on the spot where my father was killed and I fell apart,” she says. “I couldn’t not tell the truth of who I was.”

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