Menahem Ben-Yami was born in 1926 in Warsaw as Mieczysław Bierencwejg, to a Zionist-oriented family. At his circumcision ceremony, he received the double first name Menachem Yehuda. His parents called him Menachem. He recalled that he learned "Israeli-style" [i.e., modern] Hebrew when he was in kindergarten.1 During World War II, he and his family were incarcerated in the Warsaw ghetto. His parents and sister perished there.
During the uprising in the Warsaw ghetto in the spring of 1943, Menachem succeeded in escaping from the ghetto. Two months later, he joined a Jewish partisan unit operating in the Wyszków Forest, northeast of Warsaw and affiliated with the leftist and pro-Soviet Gwardia Ludowa (People's Guard) partisan army. A year later, after a serious clash with a unit of the Polish nationalist Armia Krajowa, when many Jewish partisans were killed, Menachem-Mieczysław joined the Soviet Voroshilov partisan division, a.k.a. the division of General Kapusta, that operated between Białystok and Minsk. In the summer of 1944, when the front came close to Białystok, along with many other fighters from the "Jewish detachment" within Kapusta's division, Mieczysław enlisted in the Red Army. Mieczysław was assigned to the 492nd Rifle Regiment, that was operating on the 2nd Belorussian Front.
When he was a Soviet partisan, Mieczysław Bierencwejg served in reconnaissance. Consequently he wanted to serve as a scout in the Red Army. Remarkably, when he volunteered for regimental reconnaissance, twenty of his Jewish comrades from the Kapusta partisans also expressed their desire to serve with this department. The operations officerof the regiment refused to take so many Jews for reconnaissance. He accepted only Mieczysław, saying "One Jew is more than enough."
Mieczysław's service as a scout did not last long. After the defection of a Belorussian colleague, Mieczysław, who had not only been assigned to reconnaissance with the Belorussian, but also was a foreign citizen, was transferred to the infantry. To his good fortune, at that time his division was taken off the front line and sent for additional training. Because of this, Bierencwejg was glad when he was received the opportunity to enroll in a course for combat engineers that would likely lead to active service.
Bierencwejg took part in combat in north-eastern Poland, then in Eastern Prussia; and, after that, in the area of Bydgoszcz and Toruń in northern Poland. Every crossing of a river or even of a brook by his regiment was preceded by the demining of the route by Mieczysław and his comrades. In March of 1945, during the Red Army attack on Danzig, he was seriously injured in the leg and sent to a hospital Mieczysław Bierencwejg was released from the hospital only in August 1945. By that time the war in Europe had ended. At his request as a Polish citizen, he was transferred to the Polish Army. Within a short time he was discharged from this army and joined a leftist Zionist group that was active in the Brikha (the clandestine immigration to the Land of Israel). In December 1945, he crossed the border to the American zone in Germany, and in March 1947, with a group of maapilim (Jews seeking to enter Israel despite British restrictions ), the future Jewish seaman Menachem Ben Yami departed from Italy for the Land of Israel. Their ship "Moledet" was captured by the British, and Menachem spent four months in the Atlit detention camp near Haifa.
In the State of Israel Menachem Ben-Yami served in the Navy and, after his retirement, worked in fisheries.
[mainly according to Menachem Ben-Yami, Judith Rotem, Mayim rabim, Kinneret: Zmora-Bitan Publishing House, 2017]
Menachem Ben Yami joins regimental reconnaissance – from his book of memoirs
"I myself don't know why I told my Jewish [partisan] comrades about my plans to join the reconnaissance. Perhaps I wanted to share my joy with them and felt the need to boast about my success as a Jewish scout in the Red Army. Their reactions were not positive. 'Tell me, are you crazy?' – Yosl, a 40-year-old teacher, responded – 'It is your good fortune that you survived. Do you know how many of our young men just like you, perished in this accursed war? How many were murdered in the death camps? Do you want to play poker with fate?'
He was right. But I could not give up my aspiration to take an active part in the war as a scout. A desire for revenge was burning like fire in my bones, and that was stronger ….
[On the day of the assignment of soldiers according to their specialties] All of us were assembled on the parade ground. It looked like a market day. The commanders asked the soldiers to declare their merchandise. Who has experience as an artillerist? Who was a foot soldier? And who – a mortar gunner? Who knows communications? Who knows sabotage work? And who will volunteer for reconnaissance? The commander … repeated his questions via his loudspeaker. Two men stepped forward, a Belorussian soldier and me. Suddenly another man stepped forward: 'Volunteering for reconnaissance!' – he declared. It was Yosl the teacher. Then another volunteer stepped forward, and then another one… I could not believe my eyes. Twenty men from our Jewish group volunteered for reconnaissance, as a sign of solidarity with me."
[Menachem BenYami, Judith Rotem, Mayim rabim, Kinneret: Zmora-Bitan Publishing House, 2017, p. 228]