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May 3, 2013 2:49 pm

Canadian Woman Comes to Terms With Her Jewish Identity 70 Years Later

avatar by Zach Pontz

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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.

“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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