MOYSHE LERER (1895-December 1944)
He was born in Khelm (Chełm), Poland. He descended from a rabbinical family. Until age fourteen he studied in religious primary school and on his own in the small Hassidic synagogues in Chełm, and later he was pulled into Jewish history and literature and secular knowledge generally. In 1912 he moved to Warsaw where he supported himself as a private tutor. Over the years 1913-1916, he lived in Odessa, working there in an office of a business and getting to know Mendele Moykher-Sforim and other Odessa-based, Yiddish writers from that era. He later returned to Chełm, joined the Labor Zionists, and became a teacher in the Jewish public school and in the workers’ courses given by the Labor Zionists. He was also the director of the Borokhov Library in Chełm. When YIVO was founded, Lerer became an indefatigable collector of Yiddish proverbs, folksongs, and folktales in Chełm and in the surrounding communities, and all of it he sent to YIVO in Vilna. In the 1930s he came to Warsaw and became there the YIVO plenipotentiary for collecting work in Warsaw. At about that time, he began publishing his own philological and folkloric works in various newspapers and periodicals, such as: Literarisher bleter (Literary leaves), Moment (Moment), and Folkstsaytung (People’s newspaper) in Warsaw; and primarily in publications of YIVO. Among his published writings: “An amolike yidishe khasene in khelm” (A Jewish wedding from the past in Chełm), Yidishe filologye (Yiddish philology), edited by M. Weinreich, N. Prilucki, and Z. Reyzen (Warsaw) 1 (1924), pp. 392-94, republished in Yizker-bukh khelm (Remembrance volume for Chełm) (Johannesburg, 1954), cols. 317-18; “Miluim tsu noyekh prilutskis ‘gevet’” (Supplement to Noyekh Prilucki’s “wager”), in Yizker-bukh khelm, p. 241; “Tikunim” (Improvements), in Yizker-bukh khelm, p. 242 (see also Alfred Landau’s appendix, pp. 327-28); “Materyaln far a khelemer idyotikon” (Materials for a Chełm collection of silliness), in vol. 1 of Shriftn fun yivo, filologishe serye 1, landoy-bukh (Writings of YIVO, philological series, Landau book) (Vilna, 1926), pp. 201-6; “Fun yidishn verter-oytser” (From a Yiddish vocabulary), Filologishe shriftn (Philological writings) (Vilna) 3 (1929), cols. 619-22; “Hesofes un tikunim” (Supplements and improvements), Filologishe shriftn 3 (1929), col. 622; “Vegn ‘groyses’…‘shehnes’” (On “groyses”…“shehnes”), Yidishe filologye (Vilna) 1 (1938), p. 60; “Leksikografisher tsishtayer (oysn khelemer dialekt)” (Lexicographic contribution, from the Chełm dialect), in Arkhiv far yidisher shprakhvisnshaft (Archive of Yiddish linguistics) (Warsaw, 1933-1936). He also published writings: on Yiddish philology in Literarishe bleter 100; on Moyshe Shulboym’s Milon ḥadash (New dictionary), in Literarishe bleter 122; on Perets’s language, in Literarishe bleter 101; and elsewhere. In 1926 he began to do work in the library and archive of YIVO in Vilna. When Vilna went over to the Lithuanians in 1939, Lerer was appointed director of YIVO in the position then held by Zelik Kalmanovitsh. He remained in this post when Vilna in 1940 went to the Soviets. As the Soviet “Commissar” of YIVO, he was posed against all of the remaining leaders of YIVO. In 1941 when the Nazis entered Vilna, Lerer was confined in the Vilna ghetto. He worked digging peat (1941-1942) in the Zatrocze labor camp near Landwarów [Lentvaris]. This awakened in him the generations-old rootedness of Jewish belief, and he took part in various religious assemblies (see the testimony of his friend Avrom Ayzen). When he returned to Vilna in 1942, he became a contributor to Khaykl Lunski’s ghetto library. He was interested in the cultural life in the ghetto, in community life, and in the initiative to expand the activities of the unified partisan organization (FPO [Fareynkte partizaner-organizatsye]). In 1943 at the time of the liquidation of the Vilna ghetto, he was deported to the Kiviõli concentration camp in Estonia, where he met up with Zelik Kalmamovitsh, and both would later be moved to the Narva subcamp. They both forgot their earlier differences. “Z. Kalmanovitsh slept together with Moyshe Lerer in Narva no. 17, on the third level, in the third barrack. They would both chat and write, and Lerer would say to him that they had both written a great deal.” (From the testimony of the Vilna resident Meyer Slivkin, in Sh. Katsherginski, Khurbn vilne [The Holocaust in Vilna]). Lerer became ill with typhoid fever. Kalmanovitsh helped him as best he could, and after Lerer’s death said kaddish for him. His body was cremated in a boiler of the factory.
Sources: Zalmen Reyzen, Leksikon, vol. 2; Biblyografishe yorbikher fun yivo (Bibliographic yearbooks from YIVO), vol. 1 (Warsaw, 1928); “Yizker” (Remembrance), Yivo-bleter (New York) 26 (1945), p. 9; Yidishe shriftn (Lodz), anthology (1946); Sh. Katsherginski, Khurbn vilne (The Holocaust in Vilna) (New York, 1947), pp. 109-10, 200; Dr. M. Dvorzhetski (Mark Dvorzetsky), Yerusholayim delite in kamf un umkum (The Jerusalem of Lithuania in struggle and death) (Paris, 1948), pp. 261, 264; Dr. F. Fridman, in Yizker-bukh khelm (Remembrance volume for Chełm) (Johannesburg, 1954), col. 35; Sh. Vaserman, in Yizker-bukh khelm, col. 70; N. Vinik, in Yizker-bukh khelm, col. 138; Sh. Shargel, in Yizker-bukh khelm, col. 174; E. Vinik, in Yizker-bukh khelm, col. 186; A. Ayzen, in Yizker-bukh khelm, cols. 311-16; P. Lerer, in Yizker-bukh khelm, cols. 381-83; M. Morzoger, in Yizker-bukh khelm, cols. 471-72; H. Kruk, Togbukh fun vilner geto (Diary of the Vilna ghetto) (New York, 1961), pp. 209, 334; YIVO archives in New York; oral information from Dr. Max Weinreich.