As you gaze at Max and Manya Sherman you can see the love that has kept this couple together for 71 years. The touch of their hands, the way they finish each other’s thoughts, the bond that kept them alive through the madness of war.
Max and Manya were married in the Kaplan family home on Erev Shabbat, in April 1940. Manya,16, and Max, 19, were encircled by family as they exchanged vows. “The war makes you grow up.” The world around them was unraveling. On September 6, 1939, Zwolen was heavily attacked by the German air force. Almost 80% of the town was destroyed. As Manya states, “It was chaos, nobody knew who was going to survive.” Persecution of the Jews started almost immediately. The Jews were herded into the burned-out section of town, which became the ghetto.
As long as you were young and healthy the Nazis had use for you. Max and Manya worked in a nearby brick factory alongside her sister and brother-in-law. In 1942 the ghetto was liquidated. Max struggled to keep ahead of the Nazis, moving from one hiding place to another. Together with his brother Mike and brother-in- law Leon they struggled to keep the family alive and out of view. Eventually Max and Manya were sent to different concentration and labor camps.
As Manya so perfectly put it, “every little story is a book in itself. It is so unbelievable it is hard to describe.”
With liberation came chaos. Those who survived were scattered across Europe. The Red Cross and UNRRA circulated books of lists of survivors in an effort to help families reunite. Max, liberated by the French in Germany, was one of three boys in his family of six brothers to survive. The Russians liberated Manya in Czechoslovakia. She returned to Poland hoping to find her family. Of the six girls in Manya’s family, four miraculously survived. Max found Manya by searching through those lists. The close family wasted no time in reuniting.
Yes, as Manya recalls, the war did make you grow up. But the love that brought them together as teenagers is as real now as it was when they wed in 1940.