Gail spent the first two years of her life in the Warsaw Ghetto, until her father smuggled her out and hid her with a Polish family. When the war ended, Gail was reunited with her father. Her mother was killed during the Holocaust. Gail's father was very active in helping orphaned children, and for a time, Gail lived with these children in the orphanage. (Photo below is of the orphanage in Otwock, Poland. Gail is in the center of the front row with a white apron.)
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Gail Elad was born in Warsaw, Poland on October 10, 1940. Just six days later, the Warsaw Ghetto -- a section of Warsaw that the Nazis surrounded with walls and guard stations and where they forced Jews to live under very difficult conditions -- was established. In addition to the Jews of Warsaw, the Ghetto became home to tens of thousands of Jews from surrounding communities deported to the Ghetto by the Nazis. At one point, over 400,000 Jews were crammed into the already crowded Ghetto. The conditions in the Ghetto were so miserable that over 100,000 of the Ghetto's residents died due to disease or starvation as well as random killings by Nazis and their sympathizers. Beginning in July 1942, the Nazis started massive deportations from the Warsaw Ghetto to the Treblinka extermination camp.
Gail spent the first two years of her life in the Warsaw Ghetto. Around the time that the Nazis began the systematic deportation of Warsaw Ghetto Jews to Treblinka, Gail’s father managed to smuggle her out of the Ghetto. He gave her a sleeping pill and hid her in a duffel bag. Gail’s father hid her with a Polish family until the end of World War II. Gail never again saw her mother, who died in a Nazi concentration camp.
After the conclusion of World War II, Gail happily was reunited with her father. However, because immediately after the war her father was very involved in saving Jewish children who were left as orphans by the Nazis, Gail temporarily lived in an orphanage along with these other children. Gail later moved to Germany with her father (who had by then remarried) and her stepmother where they spent a year in a displaced persons camp. Finally, in 1946,Gail made it to the United States, via Ellis Island. Gail often talked about the excitement she felt when seeing the Statue of Liberty for the very first time from the deck of her ship. In the United States, Gail started a new life. She remembers the excitement of chewing her first piece of bubble gum and also the work she put into practicing her handwriting. Her Polish name was actually Gabrisha, but in the spirit of her excitement at becoming and American, she wanted an American name and eventually chose Gail. Gail grew up in California and got her teaching degree there. In 1975, Gail, her husband and her kids moved to Israel, settling in Nahariya, before finally moving to Seattle in 1979.
Gail taught English as a Second Language in the Renton School District to students of all backgrounds and from all parts of the world. "I made a full circle," said Gail who was teaching English herself to students, remembering her own challenges in learning English and becoming an American decades earlier. In her 50's, Gail earned a Masters Degree in Education from the University of Washington and also discovered her hidden talent for watercolor painting. Gail passed away in May 2008 at the age of 67 after a long and courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. She left behind a beautiful legacy of tolerance, kindness, strength and courage, including a curriculum she developed to teach students tolerance and help them respect one another for their differences.