There is a list of horrors rattling around inside Mary Gale’s head.
The 86-year-old tells me the story of her life, starting from the happy beginning as a girl growing up in a middle-class Jewish family in Lodz, Poland, a family that, like so many other Jewish families would be torn apart by the horrors of the Holocaust.
But Mary Gale has spent the past 70 years living with a burdensome secret, a lie she no longer wishes to conceal. She can pinpoint exactly when the lie began because it had to begin somewhere in order for her to survive. Her father, Menachem, obtained false identity papers for the family and, in 1939, at the stroke of a forger’s pen Miriam Zimmerman – a blond-haired, blue-eyed Polish Jew – became Mary Plochocka, a blond-haired, blue-eyed Polish Gentile.
It was a sleight of hand that ultimately saved Miriam Zimmerman’s life and a life-giving lie she continued to live with even after the war. Even after marrying Arthur Gale and moving to Canada and becoming a mother who never really talked to her children about those terrible years because what could she possibly say?
That she was a Jew? That most of her family had been wiped out? That her real name was Miriam Zimmerman and not Mary Gale?
“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,” says Mary Gale, now living in a seniors home in Toronto’s west end.
“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.”
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