How I Survived the Wars and
For the record: this is the 3rd of August, 1995, and today I am starting my autobiographical sketches. I deliberately chose this type of memoir as it allows me just to highlight some more interesting events and periods of my life and completely ignore those of no interest to the prospective readers (I have in mind my wife and my son). I am also not bound by chronology of the events, can go forward or back as the occasion requires.
I am going to identify myself in order to tie my person with the following
text. To be very precise, I am going to copy the pertinent data from
my Canadian passport, the document whose only purpose is to guarantee
the veracity of the information.
MICHAEL ZIMMERMANN, BORN OCTOBER 02, 1907, IN WARSAW, POLAND
clear and loud but, also, grossly untrue. Let me explain and I will
start with the place of birth:
POLAND - Poland? in 1907? There was no such country at that time anywhere
on the map of the globe for the simple reason that in 1772 Poland was
divided among Germany, Austria and Russia. To say that I was born in
Poland in 1907 is equivalent that I was born in Never-Never-Land. Poland
was reborn in 1919, but at that time I was already 12 years old. in
1907, the city of Warsaw was situated within the borders of Russia as
solidly as, say, Moscow. The official language was Russian and my birth
certificate was written in Russian.
- Until I was 42 years of age nobody ever called me Michael for the
same reason that nobody ever called me Peter or Jeremiah. So, how come?
There is a story and I am going to tell it.
June 24, 1950, I arrived in Montreal as a landed immigrant. Two weeks
later I got my first Canadian job with a small company, a partnership
of consulting engineers who needed an electrical draughtsman. On the
first day at the office my immediate boss, Arthur Mendel, asked me what
is my first name. I gave him my Polish name which to him sounded like
Mee-at-chi-slav. Arthur was quiet for a moment and then
said: Look, I will never be able to pronounce your name, do you
mind if we at the office call you Mike? I liked. Six
months later, I got a job with a big corporation, C. I. L. (Canadian
Industries Limited) and, of course, I introduced myself as Mike Zimmermann.
Somehow, the name Mike is accepted easily and friendly. In 1953, I joined
C. N. R., my final Canadian job, and here too I was known as Mike or
Michael. In 1955, after living five years in the country, I applied
for Canadian citizenship and made sure that the name Michael
appears on my Certificate of Citizenship. Over the years , my two other
names that I brought from Europe dropped out and I intend to stay Michael
until the end and beyond. Thank you, Arthur Mendel, wherever you are.
- the surname came to me from my father, naturally. it is definitely
of Germanic descent, actually the word der Zimmermann means
carpenter in German. How my ancestors came to use that name
is not known to me. As I have pointed out before, at the time of my
birth, the family lived in Russia, consequently my birth certificate
was written in the Russian language and in the Cyrillic alphabet. For
those uninformed, the Russian language spells foreign names phonetically,
i.e. the way the name is pronounced. The letter Z in ZIMMERMANN
sounds in German like Ts, thus, the surname started with
an appropriate Cyrillic letter and also dropped the last n
from the name. Came the year 1919, Poland was resurrected, and when
I went to the City Hall for a copy of my birth certificate, it was given
to me in the Polish language and my surname looked as follows CYMERMAN.
I was known by this monstrosity all through my most important formative
years. In fact, my university diploma carries that name. Then came WWII,
catastrophic events and arrest by the Soviet secret police. All my documents
were taken away from me, I was given a prisoners number and I
became one of the 18 million forced labour slaves toiling in the notorious
GULAG camps. At the time of liberation, when new documents were issued
on request, I made sure that my surname was spelled in its full splendour,
the way it appears in my present passport.
OCTOBER 2 - the date of my birth. Another discrepancy. On the day I was born, the calendars in the entire country showed a date: September 21. And here is the explanation. Until it was abolished in 1918 during the Bolshevik Revolution, the Julian calendar was being used all over Tsarist Russia whereas the rest of the world used the Gregorian calendar which is 11 days ahead. When my birth certificate was retranslated from the Russian to Polish the conscientious translator converted also the dates. Thus, September 21 was changed to October 02.
Here, I conclude my comments on my vital statistics which are the results of changes, perambulations and other antics.