They Fell as Heroes
from the Vileyka Memorial
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
"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
"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 Dinerstein
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
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
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 Zychok from
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
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
Riva Enchilovicz Schneerson
May we remember all the good
that a native of Vileyka, Riva nee Enchilovitz, her husband Leone Schneerson,
and their daughter did to save Jews from hands of Nazis during the war,
transferring them to the partisans of the forest. Schneerson, 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, Rivas 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. Rivas 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
Rivas 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 Diemenstein von Kalafi
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
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 didnt 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.