Menachem and Dafna Sharon
The online exhibition was made possible through the generous support of Orna Hayuni-Sharon and Hanna Fisher in memory of their dear and beloved parents, Holocaust survivors Dafna and Menachem Sharon of blessed memory.
Menachem was born on 5 December, 1923 in Belchatow, Poland to parents Chana and Yaacov-Yishayahu Smulovitz. He was followed by sister Sara Zelda, known as Zosia, and two brothers, Yehuda Levi and Haim Ber.
Yaacov-Yishayahu Smulovitz was a textile manufacturer, who managed the business that his own father had established. The grandparents, aunts and uncles all worked together and lived near each other.
The Smulovitz family were members of the Radomsk Hassidic sect and Menachem studied in a cheder from the age of four.
At seven he was sent to study in the secular Polish school, Gutwold and at 15 he continued his studies in a Lithuanian Yeshiva for four years until he was sent to the Lodz ghetto.
He met his future wife Tosia (Dafna) née Kolberg, when he was still a pupil at the Polish school. Tosia's father Simcha Bunem Kolberg, was a member of the city council on behalf of Agudath Yisrael.
With the outbreak of the war, the Jews of Belchatow were forced to leave their homes and to move to the area defined as the ghetto and designated for Jews alone.
In August 1942 a selection was carried out in Belchatow, and Menachem was separated from his family. His grandparents, his mother Chana and his two younger brothers were deported to their deaths in the Chelmno extermination camp.
Menachem, his father and sister were sent to the Lodz ghetto, where Menachem was put to work in a textile factory. Around that time, Tosia Kolberg and her sister Rita were also sent to Lodz.
Menachem and his family lived in the ghetto until its liquidation in August 1944, when he and his father were deported to Auschwitz. His sister Zosia and the sisters Tosia and Rita Kolberg were deported to Birkenau. Some time later Menachem and his father were sent to work in a labor camp near Gleiwitz. In mid-December 1944, they were returned to Auschwitz.
Menachem's father became very weak, and one morning was not sent out to work. At the end of the day Menachem returned to their block and found just a striped garment. Seeing the prisoner number sewn on the garment, Menachem understood that his father had already been murdered.
In January 1945, before the Red Army liberated Auschwitz-Birkenau, the Germans forced all the prisoners who could still walk on what has become known as the death marches. Menachem pretended to be dead, thus managing to escape the death march.
Following many upheavals, he reached Belchatow in search of survivors from his family. There he met his uncle Yechezkel, who had survived, but understood that most of his family had been murdered in Chelmno. He didn't manage to find any information about his sister Zosia and her friends Tosia and Rita Kolberg from whom he had 'parted' on the ramp at Birkenau in August 1944.
In Lodz, Menachem introduced himself to representatives of the Bricha movement that was organizing the emigration of Jews from Eastern Europe to the west and from there to Eretz Israel. The majority of their activities were carried out illegally as the authorities objected to the Jews' departure, and they had to change their headquarters frequently.
Working with the Bricha movement, Menachem moved to Czechoslovakia and helped transfer Jews from Katowice to Bratislava. He was only in his early twenties, but he was full of energy and the need to be active. Menachem had a gift for languages. In addition to his knowledge of Polish, Yiddish and Hebrew from home, he had picked up additional languages from prisoners he had met in Auschwitz, and could speak a little Czech and Slovakian. As part of his work in the Bricha movement, he served as the head of a brigade and mediated between the groups of refugees crossing the border and the border police, and acted as their spokesman in dealings with the authorities. The cover that was given to the refugees was of Greeks who had been in forced labor camps during the war and were now returning to their homeland, Greece. Menachem was their "Greek interpreter".
The activities of the Bricha movement demanded resourcefulness, decisiveness, cunning, and improvisation and mostly, courage and the ability to take risks.
In order to lead convoys of Jews through the border crossings and to bring them to their destination, Menachem went back and forth between Czechoslovakia and Poland until he knew all the border personnel in depth. He was so immersed in his role that at times he actually forgot that he was travelling with forged papers. The Czechoslovakian authorities turned a blind eye on numerous occasions and assisted in the transport of the convoys. Even so, the border between Poland and Czechoslovakia was patrolled by armed Polish guards who terrorized the region and endangered the Iives of the refugees.
The communist leadership became increasingly entrenched in Poland, and in February 1947 the Poles closed the borders, permitting only a very restricted number of Jews to leave. In March, members of the Bricha movement were apprehended in Poland, and so from March to August Menachem worked alone and was responsible for both sides of the border crossing, the Polish and the Czechoslovakian.
Despite the terror activities and the dangerous situations that they faced, the members of the Bricha movement did not flinch and they continued to smuggle people across the border. The period in which he was active in the Bricha was very significant in Menachem's life and was the only part of his experiences that he was willing to share with his daughters.
In one of the groups that Menachem accompanied, he met a survivor from Belchatow who informed him that the sisters Tosia and Rita, and his own sister Zosia had survived and were at that time in the Landsberg DP camp in Germany. Aroung the same time, Menachem discovered that his uncle, Yona Smulovitz, had survived, and was hospitalized in one of the DP camps close to Frankfurt. On visiting him, Menachem found out that Yona's wife Chana and their three children had all been murdered. Menachem set out to find Tosia Kolberg, three years after their forced parting in August 1944 on the ramp at Birkenau. During their emotional reunion Menachem learnt that Tosia, her sister Rita and his sister Zosia had reached Dachau on a death march, had been liberated there and been taken to Landsberg. Menachem managed to bring them to Czechoslovakia, and to arrange Aliyah permits for Zosia and Rita, sending them via France, by ship, to Eretz Israel.
Tosia stayed with Menachem in Czechoslovakia until their wedding on 9 March 1948 in the Altneushul in Prague.
In May 1949 they immigrated to Israel, where Menachem was appointed secretary for the central region in the Jewish Agency’s Water Department.
Their eldest daughter Chana was born in 1951.
In 1957 he started work in the private sector as the managing director of a textile company.
In 1959 their younger daughter Orna was born.
In 1960 he was appointed Israeli Consul to Poland, and was assigned to Warsaw for four years. He lived there with his family and changed their surname from Smulovitz to Sharon. Tosia changed her name to Dafna. From that point on, they became Dafna and Menachem Sharon.
In 1964 they returned to Israel and Menachem began working for Hiron Ltd., a wood and industrial buildings importer in the private sector.
With their return to Israel they began to search for fellow survivors from Belchatow in Israel. They established the Association of Survivors from Belchatow in Israel, and built a memorial for the Jews of their city in the cemetery in Holon. Every year they held a memorial ceremony on the date of the destruction of the community of Belchatow.
In 1989 they began work on establishing a memorial in the Jewish cemetery in Belchatow, and initiated the placement of a memorial plaque in memory of the Jews of Belchatow on a wall in the town square.
Menachem and Dafna also established the first Jewish memorial at the site of the Chelmno extermination camp, commemorating the 4,935 Jews of Belchatow who were sent to their deaths in Chelmno in August 1942.
In 1992 Menachem organized a “roots trip” to Poland, accompanied by his wife, daughters and survivors from Belchatow from across the world. They held unveiling ceremonies in Belchatow and Chelmno, and were interviewed by Polish raadio.
Dating from their return to Israel, Menachem worked in the private sector for many years. He managed an estate agency (“Kavim”) and a factory that produced leather clothing. He was deputy managing director of the Conference Center in Tel Aviv’s Exhibitions Pavilion and held several managerial positions.
In 1996 Menachem lit a torch at the opening ceremony of Holocaust Martyrs’ and Heroes’ Remembrance Day at Yad Vashem.
In the mid-90s, in addition to his activities for the Israel-Poland Friendship Society, Menachem was approached by the Chairman of Yad Vashem to sit on the public Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations, which he joined willingly.
Following the death of his wife Dafna in 2009 from an extended illness, Menachem retired from all business activities.
In 2010 he stepped down from the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations due to ill health.
Menachem Sharon died in April 2012, leaving behind him two daughters, five grandsons and four great grandsons.
The more time passes, the more we miss you.
The more that we talk about you with others, the more that we understand how little we knew of everything that you did and how great but modest you were.
Involved, dynamic and with endless energy till your last day. Resourceful and wise, loving society and people. You were loved and valued so much by everyone who came into contact with you.
You were involved in so many different fields that it is hard to understand how you managed to adapt to all of them; you flourished in all of them thanks to your amazing ability to communicate with other people, to find the way to their hearts, to find a connection to everyone.
You were openhearted and generous beyond compare. You contributed wherever possible and yet you were always modest with respect for others. Your work with the Commission for the Designation of the Righteous Among the Nations suited you so well because it was always so important to you to thank those who deserved it; you were drawn to the good in people.
In one of the condolence letters that we received after you left us, it described you as, "An educated man, with wide horizons, knowledgeable, a conversationalist and friend. His pleasant ways, his manner and even temperament made him an anchor in difficult times. He embodied 'comfort', the meaning of his name - comfort in times of trouble and difficulty."
Father, for us you were a strong back and a sense of security that we were always protected. Together with Mother, you built a warm home for us, embracing and protective. You were proud of your grandchildren and took pleasure in your great grandchildren but more than anything you maintained a special connection with Mother and a wonderful relationship of over 60 years that set an example for all of us. Since she left us, you no longer found any purpose in life and your passing away on her birthday is symbolic for all of us.
Always loving and missing you,