Holocaust survivor Manya Sherman and her unique optimism
by MAX SPARBER
Community News Editor
Manya Sherman, of Golden Valley, died Nov. 9 at the age of 94, 77 years after she had taken her wedding vows in the city of Zwolen, Poland. It was 1940, and, as the Transfer of Memory website puts it in a profile of Sherman, “the world around them was unraveling.”
During the Nazi invasion of Poland, 80 percent of the buildings in Zwolen were destroyed, and it was the site of numerous mass executions. The city’s population of 4,500 Jews were put in an unfenced ghetto of 239 houses, and in 1952 another 5,000 Jews were brought in from elsewhere. The population would eventually be liquidated, transported en masse to Treblinka on Sept. 29, 1942.
Manya and her husband Max worked in a brick factory along with other family members, and they went into hiding when the ghetto was liquidated, eventually ending up in various work and concentration camps. She eventually reconnected with many of her family members after the war, in the confusion that followed liberation. Four of the six girls in Manya’s family survived. Her husband, Max, survived.
In her eulogy of Manya Sherman, Rabbi Marcia Zimmerman took pains to point out that Manya lived her life after the Holocaust with quiet defiance. Zimmerman pointed out that in most families of survivors, the family members have not memorized the number tattooed on their relative’s arm, but that wasn’t the case with Manya.
“Everyone remembered her number,” Zimmerman said. “A24711.”
The reason everyone knew this number, according to Zimmerman: Manya used it. “She thought it was her lucky number. That is optimism beyond belief. She used it for lottery numbers. She liked to gamble, and she was a big winner. She was always clear that she could win big. What was supposed to be a number of shame became a number of pride.”
Manya’s granddaughter, Dori Ruben, speaking at the same event, discussed how Manya’s life after the war became dominated by sewing.
“Grandma was an incredible seamstress,” Ruben said. “Grandma and her sisters assimilated through sewing. By reading the patterns and recreating designer dresses, she learned the language, the styles. Even at 90 I was so impressed by her patience, precious and skill.”
Another granddaughter, Heidi Pergament, spoke of Manya’s heritage of faith, which preceded the Holocaust and would continue after it.
“Grandma grew up with amazing role models in her life, loving parent and grandparents, her aunts and uncles, the richness of the traditions of Shabbos and kosher infused her entire childhood,” Pergament said. “Her grandmother taught her that Jews pray every morning and every night.”
“Grandma endured the unspeakable horrors of the concentration camps, but that didn’t define her,” Pergament continued. “Grandma had many opportunities to tell her story over the years, in one interview she said, ‘We worked hard, we tried to make a normal life for our kids.’”
According to Pergament, Manya, who had grown up learning the Bible from a Yiddish translation and never lost her love of the language, also never lost her accent. According to Pergament, “any time anyone asked her where she was from, she would say ‘Minnesota.’”
Manya was married to Max for 70 years; he died in 2013. She is survived by daughter Elaine Rubin, son-in-law Les Novak; grandchildren Heidi Pergament, Shani Graber, David Rubin and Dori Rubin.
(American Jewish World, 12.29.17)