The record of the family Tchernichov goes all the way back to at least the 18th century. It was a family of great businessmen and scholars. The family always lived in the town of Kosovo, Polesia. The head of the family, Yeshayahu Moshe Tchernichov, owned a tobacco processing factory in Kosovo. He had three sons: Aba, Shmuel and Leima. Shmuel moved to Slonim and was also in the tobacco processing business, and had four children: two sons, Yosef and Binyamin, and two daughters, Reisa and Mina.
Our story is about Yosef Tchernichov who was killed during Hitler's destruction of the Jews. Yosef was born in 1882. Until his Bar Mitzvah, he studied Jewish subjects. After his 13th birthday in 1895, all three brothers, Yosef's father Shmuel, Abba and Leima, opened a glass factory in Telekhany, and Shmuel and his family moved there. From this point Yosef was considered a native of Telekhany. Although he had also studied in the large cities, he would return for vacations and thereby came to be considered as a native son of Telekhany.
While he was still a teenager, Yosef joined the Zionist movement, and later, under the influence of the Socialist movement, he joined the Socialist Zionist party in which he was known as an important theoretician and orator of the movement. He was arrested and released several times, and after the failure of the 1905 revolution he returned to his law studies at Kharkov university, where he excelled in his studies. He married, moved to Vilna and practiced law. At the same time he became active in the city's Jewish cultural life, and became a great supporter of the Yiddish language.
During World War I, when Jews within the boundaries of Polesia and Poland suffered from Czarist persecution, Yosef moved to St. Petersburg to organize a defense committee. During the first months of the revolution, he got an important job in the Kerensky government. After the October revolution he moved to Kiev and devoted himself to political and cultural activities.
In 1921 Yosef received a visa to return to Lithuania, and stayed briefly in Kovno, where he got involved in important cultural work. He represented HIAS and edited a newspaper. However, this work left him dissatisfied, and he missed his law practice. He returned to Vilna and resumed his law practice; he soon became renowned as one of the greatest attorneys in Poland, and specialized in defending clients in criminal and political cases. Although he opposed communism, he nevertheless strenuously defended those persecuted as communists by the Polish government. During his legal cases Yosef excelled as a former resident of Telekhany.
In Telekhany and neighboring areas, a group of thirty young people, both Jews and gentiles, was arrested and accused of actions against the Polish government. They faced severe punishment. Prior to the trial, Tchernichov was approached to take up their defense. He didn't ask for any money, and threw himself totally into defending them. The trial received great publicity throughout Poland. He worked very hard in their defense, and many of the accused were acquitted; some of the rest received light sentences. When asked later to state his fee, he responded, "Whatever you can afford." Some of the released young people now live in the United States.
Even with his busy law practice, Yosef found time for community service and cultural activities. He didn't have much faith in the Zionist solution to the "Jewish Question," however, he did join the "territorial movement" and looked for a territorial solution. Together with Y. N. Steinberg and others, Tchernichov founded the "Free Land League." He was one of the founders of the Jewish Scientific Institute in Vilna, and attended the founding of the ICOF [?] in Paris.
Tchernichov was a great humanist, a man of high culture. He wrote a lot about important Jewish national and cultural problems. His writings were printed in numerous magazines and newspapers. He also published many pamphlets on Jewish historiography and other polemical pamphlets. As a great loyal son of his people, he didn't ignore their awful fate, and together with many other great Jews and the six million, he perished in the terrible Flood, though not directly at the hands of the Nazis.
When World War II broke out, the Nazi hordes stormed eastward, and the Soviets occupied parts of Lithuania and Polesia. They arrested many people of distinction in Vilna who were suspected of being disloyal to the Soviet regime. Among these outstanding individuals, both Jews and non-Jews, was Yosef Tchernichov. He was accused for having written his brochure, "Revtribunal" and for having committed many other such "sins". The investigation dragged on until the Nazis attacked the USSR in June 1941. When people were fleeing the Nazis, the arrested suspects were also driven deeper into Russia. Tchernichov was already weakened by his long incarceration, was unable to keep walking, and fell down. The soldiers had orders from their superiors not to leave anyone alive, so apparently one of the soldiers shot him.
Thus, this is how yet another of the dear sons of our Jewish People was added to the list of martyrs. Honor to his memory. Yosef's son Michael was arrested together with his father, and was sent far away to work at hard labor. He managed to live through it and survive.
I lost you when you were only 44 years old,
When I, the child born in your mature years, was only a year old,
I was so very young,
I still remember what I saw at your funeral, especially how
They placed a small bag of earth from the Land of Israel under your head,
When you were laid to your eternal rest.
That small bag of earth and the prayer To Jerusalem your City… that I recited
Three times a day enabled me to get through the bitter Exile.
Then when the Poalei Zion movement appeared in Jewish communities,
It was easy for me, deeply rooted in Judaism, to find my life in it.
And when during the First World War President Wilson proclaimed
That if the Allies helped oppressed peoples, their independence would be restored,
And then a Jewish legion was therefore organized,
I joined the fight under its banner.
(Frank Lieberman of Telekhany also did the same thing).
Unfortunately, our independence was not realized because of Britain's treachery,
But thanks to our bitter struggle against England, she had to give up the Mandate in Palestine,
As soon as England left Palestine, the Arabs attacked us from all sides,
And a great miracle occurred in that situation, just like in ancient times,
That is: giving the mighty into the hands of the weak…. and because of that,
After an Exile of two thousand years, the State of Israel was established in Palestine.
Since I know what a loyal Jewish woman you were your entire life,
It is only right that I give you the good news about the State of Israel.
That's it for worldly news, and now let me report to you about your children.
Unfortunately, the report is a sad one, because except for me, no one is alive today.
Your eldest, Monya, died in Shanghai as result of World War I,
He was lonely and sick when he gave up his soul.
Leah, who looked exactly like you,
Was laid to rest in the United States.
Aharon died in a typhus epidemic, and the Germans killed Chana and
Chava and their families when the Germans invaded Poland.
Dear Mother, you only lived 44 years, and it's already been another 72 years,
However, my love for you has not diminished the slightest,
Rest, Mama, in your eternal peace.
Advocate on our behalf for mercy and salvation for all oppressed and persecuted Jews.
According to a Telekhany community regulation, he could have advanced to the position of treasurer of the Burial Society because the regulation stated that anyone serving two years as a custodian could become treasurer. Hillel, however, declined the honor. He felt that he was indispensable in the role of custodian. He was expert in all aspects of religious law relating to Jewish burial, washing of the deceased, putting the shrouds on the deceased, digging the grave, cutting the boards for the grave, and all other laws and customs.
Once each year new members joined the burial society. The event was accompanied by a dinner, and what a banquet it was!
There was a very wealthy and respectable man named Leib Turok in Telekhany who wanted to become a member of the society. At the same time someone else, Alter the carpenter, also wanted to join. A dilemma now arose. Hillel was more than willing to bring in Alter the carpenter, and Hillel knew that Alter could be of great assistance. However, what were they to do about Leib Turok? The burial society in Telekhany was run in a democratic fashion. Anyone who wanted to join the society had to serve first as a custodian for two years. Everyone knew that Alter the carpenter would agree to fulfill the requirements, but Leib Turok? Could he be refused membership? Who would dare turn down this wealthy man?
After extensive deliberation, it was decided to accept both candidates as members. On the spot, Hillel the Custodian figured out a way for Leib Turok not to have to serve the two-year training period as a custodian in the Burial Society. Since both Leib and Alter were Libash chassidim, Alter the carpenter would serve as a custodian for himself and for Leib Turok. So whenever someone found out about a death in town, Hillel would quickly call Alter the carpenter to assist him in the burial preparations. At each burial, the custodians would drink a little alcohol, which understandably enabled them to be able to tolerate the weeping of the family of the deceased.
Hillel the Custodian was occupied with his work as custodian, and dealt with suffering the whole year round. However, when it came to the holiday of Simchat Torah, he did not rejoice with all the other chassidim, but instead celebrated it on his own. He wanted to be able to forget about the dead and the graves just once a year. However, he would walk down the streets. In one hand he carried a pot of carrot pudding prepared especially for him by the butchers, and in the other he carried a bottle of alcohol. He would sing and dance, shouting, Holy Flock! We children would follow him and respond, Mah, mah, mah!
This was how life was in Telekhany, with its holy Jews, Hillel the Custodian and others, until the arrival of the Hitler-murderers who destroyed everything.
Moshe Vichnes, as he was known in Telekhany, was a goodhearted person. He was known to be hospitable with his home and charitable with his money. His doors were always open to the needy, and he saw to it that no one left his house hungry or empty handed.
His children in America uphold the ways and traditions of their father. His son Khuna Lev is a philanthropist who generously helps friends and fellow émigrés, and spends a great deal of money on Israel. Moshe's son, like his father before him, excels in the trait of giving money anonymously. He dislikes people talking about his help and open hand. His sister Vichna Kaplan from Chicago writes that her brother Khuna Lev does not know that she is writing about his great character traits for the Yizkor book.
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Updated 13 Aug 2003 by LA