Gail Elad, 5 years old in Poland 1945
Gail Elad, 5 years old in Poland 1945

Gail Elad (nee Lederman) was born in Warsaw, Poland on October 10, 1940, six days before the Nazis forced her and her family into the Warsaw Ghetto. The Warsaw Ghetto was a section of Warsaw that the Nazis surrounded with walls and guard stations and where they forced Jews to live in crowded conditions. In addition to the Jews of Warsaw, the Nazis forced tens of thousands of Jews from surrounding communities into the ghetto. At one point, over 400,000 Jews were crammed into an area that was 1.3 square miles. 

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, Isidor, managed to smuggle her out of the Ghetto. He gave her a sleeping pill and hid her in a duffel bag. Gail’s father placed her with a non-Jewish 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 was reunited with her father. Immediately after the war Gail's father was very involved in saving Jewish children who were left as orphans by the Nazis, and 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 approximately 1947, 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 Gabrisha, but in the spirit of her excitement she wanted a name that sounded "American" and chose Gail. Gail grew up in California and earned her teaching degree there. In 1975, Gail, her husband and her kids moved to Israel, settling in Nahariya, before 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 remembered her own challenges in learning English 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.