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[Page 150]

They Fell as Heroes

 

The Holy Martyr,
Moshe Berman

As told by K. P.

Translated by Eilat Levitan and Ona Kondrotas

Moshe was a handsome young man, tall and broad-shouldered, very healthy both physically and spiritually. He was the eldest son in the famous Berman family, owners of a photography studio. When he graduated from the school 'Tarbut', he studied the profession of his father, and in a short time became a very good photographer and developer, helping with the family business when his father became sick and retired. Moshe put all his energy and talent into his work and became a true artist in his profession.

He was also amongst the founders of the Zionist movement Beytar, a right-wing youth movement in Vileyka. One of the first three members of this movement, he wore the uniforms of Beytar when walking the streets. After the head of the Beytar movement in Vileyka, Reuven Kugel, immigrated to Israel, Moshe became the head of the branch, and was sent to a national Beytar meeting in Warsaw as Vileyka representative. His younger brothers Mordechai and Schmuel followed his steps in becoming Beytar members.

I learned of the last days of Moshe Berman from an officer in the Polish army by the name of Janke Jagilovitcz. Janke is a Christian man from Vileyka, and here is what he told:

“I met Moshe, a native of my hometown, in the Polish POW camp in Poznan. He was loved by all the Polish POWs, especially those who had known him previously in Vileyka. Many times, we tricked the German officers at the camp so they would not treat him badly for being a Jew. We assumed that this POW camp would not last long and we would soon be allowed to return home. When our situation only worsened and we saw that the Germans had no intention of disbanding the camp and letting us return home, we began to plan an escape in order to return .

“Moshe, together with other Jewish POWs in the camp, was able to get in touch with Jews who lived in the area as well as some local Poles. One evening, Moshe and his friends all escaped to the forest near Poznan with the locals' help. All the escapees kept in touch, and in the forest they joined some local Jews and Poles in establishing an independent resistance movement. All their missions were carried out without consulting any larger contingent.

“During this time, an extensive collective resistance movement had not yet been established. Since Moshe Berman had no family members nearby, he and his Jewish friends put all their energy into rescue operations to get Jews out of ghettos and German camps and transfer them to freedom in the forests. As he spoke fluent German and was a good-looking man, he was able to make contact with both the Germans and the local population without raising suspicion.

“Moshe and his friends were so dedicated to transferring Jews to the forest that occasionally they would disguise themselves in the Gestapo SD uniforms, pretending to be officers, and would take Jews out of the ghetto, supposedly to work. In reality, they would bring them to the forest. During resistance missions, they destroyed German ammunition, derailed trains, and plundered German supplies.

“However, someone informed the Gestapo Headquarters about one of these resistance missions, and the Gestapo began following them. One time, when two 'soldiers' dressed in the uniform of SD officers came riding on bicycles and took a group of Jewish workers with them from the ghetto, they were surrounded by the real SD soldiers and taken to the Gestapo. It could be that someone had informed the Gestapo of this particular operation.

“The young Jewish men had the poison cyanide that they always kept with them in case they would fall at the hands of the Gestapo. They did not want to surrender and intended to commit suicide instead, for to fall at the hands of the Gestapo meant torture and interrogation. Thus, they committed suicide. One of these two men was a son of Vileyka, the martyr Moshe Berman.”


The Partisan Noah Dinnerstein

As told by Z. G.

Translated by Eilat Levitan and Ona Kondrotas

Before the Polish-German war in 1939, Noah was a soldier in the Polish army, taking part in the battles until he became a German POW. He was able to escape from the POW camp and returned to Vileyka. During the time of the Soviets, 1939-1941, he was enlisted in the Soviet Red Army and was sent near Byalistok. When the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, he walked from Byalistok, through Poland, until he reached Vileyka.

Reaching Vileyka, he hid in the attic of his parents' home. A few days after he returned, all his family members who had stayed in Vileyka were taken to their deaths. On this day, he remained hiding in the attic, and at night he escaped and arrived at the nearby town Kurenetz. Prior to this, he was a sergeant in the Polish Army and had a good military preparation. So, when he met young men in Kurenetz who were planning to join the resistance, he taught them how to use weapons, how to take rifles apart and put them together, and trained them how to be effective members of the resistance.

Eventually, he joined the resistance brigade, the People's Avenger, and was appointed as second to the leader of the brigade. He was renowned for his bravery in battle. In a short time, he demolished four trains filled with the ammunition of the enemy. The fourth train that he derailed (traveling from Minsk to Molodecno) caused the deaths of more than a thousand German soldiers who died when the ammunition in the train exploded. For this mission, he received awards of excellence and was named a Hero of the Soviet Union. He fell in battle against the Nazis not far from the town of Ilya. He was twenty-seven years old.


My Brother Noah

As told by Chana née Dinnerstein Melberger,
writing from Haifa at the end of the 1940s

Translated by Eilat Levitan and Ona Kondrotas

My brother Noah was born in Vileyka in 1916. He studied in the Hebrew school Tarbut. When he graduated, he went to a Polish high school, but was not able to finish it. Instead, he had to end his studies as our family situation worsened and Father was not able to pay for two tuitions: my oldest brother was attending the university of Vilna, which was very costly. When Noah stopped attending high school, he became devoted to the socialist Zionist youth movement, Hashomira Hatzair He was a very involved member, going to meetings for three years to prepare for the building of a new country of Israel. Here he received agricultural training.

When he returned three years later to Vileyka, he wished very much to receive papers to travel to Israel, but was not able to. Despite all his training, he was not permitted to immigrate. Meanwhile, the time came for him to serve in the Polish army. After two and a half years he returned home, but some time later was deployed again to serve for six weeks. He did not return home after these six weeks, as war had started and the Germans had crossed the Polish border; his unit became POWs. He was able to escape from the German POW camp, swimming across the river Wiesla, and after walking through Poland for a few months he finally returned to Vileyka, at that point in Soviet hands.

Noah found a job, but after a year he was deployed by the Soviet army, and sent to work in building buttresses in the area of Byalistok. When the Russo-German war started in June 1941, all contact was lost with him. I immediately escaped from Vileyka and fled deep into Soviet Russia, but my father, Josef Leib Dinerstein, my sister Chaja with her husband Cheim Taubes, and the children Zeev and Miriam stayed in Vileyka. They were all murdered by the Nazis in 1941.

I learned of the fate of my brother Noah only after I returned from Siberia, where I spent the war years. I was told about his death by some war survivors. Noah joined Narodny Mastitel (Russian), the headquarters of which were in the area of Naruc. I don't know how he was able to reach them [editor's note: read Salman Gurevich's story to learn of this]. Some witnesses among them - Vichna Friedman from Dolchinov, for instance - told me Noah was a very brave fighter who took part in dangerous missions against the Nazis. He rescued many Jews from the ghettos and camps, bringing them to partisans in the forest.

He fell in a mission against the Germans as hero of the Soviet Union in the last days of war in that area. The newspaper, Partisan, wrote about him, saying that postmortem, he had received commendation as Hero of the Soviet Union. His image will remain in our hearts for eternity.


The Partisan Chaim Tzihok
from the town Retzke

As told by M. Landau

Translated by Eilat Levitan and Ona Kondrotas

From his native town, Chaim brought his special spiritual gifts to the world. He was peaceful, modest, and shy. A top student in the Polish high school in Vileyka, he was an active member in the Zionist movement Beytar. During the days of the Holocaust, he found his way to the resistance, where he was known as one of its most active and brave members. He planned many missions of the brigade, taking part in them. Not only was he brave but also blessed with a very rational mind, and all his friends and comrades - both Jews and gentiles - greatly respected him. He destroyed hundreds of tons of German ammunition and derailed dozens of trains. He was able to demolish numerous important bridges.

Once, during a blockade the Germans organized against the resistance, it soon became obvious that the Nazis would defeat the partisans. From their bunkers, they spitfired the resistance unit. The partisans were outnumbered and could not break through the blockade. Together with his Jewish friend from Minsk - a man by the name of Fabrikant - Chaim jumped from his hiding place. Armed with grenades, they attacked the bunkers of the Germans. They killed the Nazis and exploded the bunker with their grenades, but they paid for this victory with their lives. After death, Chaim was awarded a medal of Hero of the Soviet Union.


Riva née Ancelevich and
her Husband Lunyah Schneirson

Translated by Eilat Levitan and Ona Kondrotas

May we remember all the good that a native of Vileyka, Riva nee Enchilovitz, her husband Lunyah Schneirson, and their daughter did to save Jews from hands of Nazis during the war, transferring them to the partisans of the forest. Schneirson, from the famous Schneerson family of Chabad, was a pharmacist and the owner of a pharmacy in Kurenetz. The Germans saw him as a useful Jew whose skills could be exploited during the war in serving gentiles as well as the Wehrmacht. His family was allowed to remain at home and had enough food to sustain themselves. Thus, they dedicated their lives to saving other Jews.

The survivors from Kurenetz and Vileyka tell of the close contact between this family and the partisans - both resistance members who were Jews and gentiles. Many times, they endangered their own lives by sending difficult-to-obtain medicines to the forests both to save sick Jews hiding there as well as partisans themselves.

During the big massacre of Kurenetz on September 9, 1942, some families were able to hide from the Nazis and by miracle survived. However, they did not know how to leave the town and arrive at the Borodina forest. For many, Riva's was the only address they knew. She got in touch with the underground for their sake, and was able to transfer the surviving Jews to a safe haven in the forest and villages. Riva's family helped many Jewish families either by collecting the money and possessions that they gave for safeguarding to Christian people who lived in the area, which by that point had become Judenrhein, or, sometimes, by giving their own money and clothes, which the Jews could exchange for food. Their hands were open toward all Jews in need.

Riva's family waited for an opportunity to escape and flee to the forest themselves, but each time they planned an escape, they were asked by their friends in the forest to stay in town and use their advantageous position for the service of the resistance. Ultimately, this kindness and helpfulness was what caused them to lose their lives. The Germans learned that this family was in contact with the partisans, and for this they paid with their lives.


Berta Dimmenstein
from the Village Kalafi

As told by Kalman Farber

Translated by Eilat Levitan and Ona Kondrotas

A very brave Jewish woman, Berta von Kalafi didn't appear Jewish and her way of speech was similar to that of the local people. She was able to walk freely amongst the Christian population undiscerned. She secretly became very involved with the resistance movement.

In Soviet times, she worked in Krasne, later moving to Vileyka. On the day of the massacre of the Vileykan Jews, three Jewish families in the Kalafi village were killed. Amongst these were Berta's parents. That day, Berta was at the Vileyka train station. When she found out what had been done to her parents, she quickly went to the Volkovisczinzna village and hid with Christian friends. From there, she got in touch with the partisans, who gave her a Browning rifle. She pretended to be a village girl, visiting even the Gestapo house where Josef Norman, from Vileyka, worked in the printing house. After work, he would print pamphlets for the resistance in this Gestapo printing house. Berta would take and distribute them amongst the villagers and partisans. She was also able to obtain Aryan IDs for Josef and Mula Norman.

The resistance members suggested Berta be a nurse for the brigade. She refused, saying she must take an active part in the missions and avenge the spilled blood of her parents. On one occasion, during a heavy shelling by the Germans, a partisan who was in command of a machine gun did not shoot back at the Nazis. Whether he did this because he was in shock or because he didn't want to shoot was not clear, but he even intended to leave the weapon behind and run. Berta threatened him with her gun, forcing him to go back to the machine gun and fire. This resulted in enemy retreat.

In the forest, they talked of Berta as if she were a wild wind. They said she was brave and full of spirit. One of the partisans in the forest tried to molest her, and since she was very pure, she fought his attempts and he murdered her.

Her nephew survived, now lives in Israel, and is in touch with people from Kurenetz.

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