MIKHL TSHERNIKHOV (MICHAEL C. ASTOUR) (December 17, 1916-October 7, 2004)
He was born in Kharkov, Ukraine, the son of Yoysef Tshernikhov. In the autumn of 1921, his family successfully left the Soviet Union for Kovno (Lithuania) and in 1924 settled in Vilna. In 1937 he graduated from the humanities faculty of the Sorbonne in Paris with a M. A. for his research on the topic of the forefathers in the Torah and the myths of Ras Shamra, written on the basis of comparative mythology and archeological discoveries. For a short time he also studied agronomy in the agriculture school in Grignon, near Paris. While quite young, he began community activities (1930) as a member of Vilna Jewish Scouts organization “Bin” (bee). In 1933 he founded the territorialist Jewish youth association: Shparber (sparrow hawk). He was active in the Freeland movement until the outbreak of WWII. He began writing in Russian while still in his early high school years. In 1932 he published (with other “Bin” oppositionists, then still young poet-beginners, A. Sutskever and Leyzer Volf) the Scout wall newspapers: Greyt! (Get ready!) and Mitn pen un rukzak (With pen and backpack). In March 1933, he published (using the pen name Mikhl Astur) his first article: “Marks vegn yidn un yidn vegn marksn” (Marx on the Jews and Jews on Marx), in Vilner tog (Vilna day). Later, in Literarishe bleter (Literary leaves) in Warsaw (October 1933), he published his article, “A shtim fun der yugnt” (A voice from the youth), in which he for the first time proclaimed the necessity of reestablishing socialist territorialism. In September 1934, he brought out a one-off publication, Shparber (in Warsaw). He wrote on the topic of “Territorialism and Scout training of Jewish youth” in: Frayland (Freeland) in Warsaw (1934); Oyfshtayg (Ascent) in Vilna (1935-1937); Der pyoner (The pioneer) in Vilna (1939); and Vilner tog (1934-1939), in which he also published popular science articles, correspondence pieces from France, and travel impressions, as well as a poetic social estimation of the land of Israel. He also published poetic translations in Yiddish from V. Mayakovsky (in Oyfshtayg, 1935), A. S. Pushkin (in Vilner tog, February 1937), and Walt Whitman (also in Vilner tog, March 1939). Of his historical studies, he managed to publish before the war: “Di urgeshikhte fun YHVH” (The prehistory of YHVH [the Tetragrammaton]), in Yivo-bleter (Pages from YIVO) (Vilna) 13.4-5 (1938)
When the Soviet Army entered Vilna in 1939, Tshernikhov succeeded in hiding his writings in eight volumes of his diaries (lost during the occupation). He was arrested by the NKVD (secret police), together with his father, on October 1, 1939. He received a five-year prison term as the leader of “nationalist counter-revolutionary youth organizations”: Shparber and Bin. After spending twenty-three months in prison and in the Komi labor camp, he was freed thanks to the amnesty for former Polish citizens. He managed to reach Turkestan from whence he twice tried to cross the desert to Iran; for this reason he received an additional seven years’ sentence (1943-1950) spent mainly in Karlag labor camp, Kazakhstan. After being freed, he gradually worked his way up a technical engineer in the coal industry. In late 1956, he was repatriated back to Poland with his wife, and there he worked in the Jewish Historical Institute, and in the teachers’ course of study in Warsaw, he ran a class in ancient Jewish history which later appeared in book form under the title Geshikhte fun yidn in altertum (History of Jews in antiquity) (Warsaw: Yidish bukh, 1958), 95 pp. He published studies of the ancient history of Israel in Buletin (Bulletin) and Bleter far geshikhte (Pages of history) published by the Jewish Historical Institute in 1957 and 1958. In March 1958, he moved to Paris and contributed to: Afn shvel (At the threshold) in New York; Frayland and Unzer shtime (Our voice) in Paris; and Di goldene keyt (The golden chain) in Tel Aviv. He published research on ancient Jewish history in French-language scholarly journals as well. In December 1959 he moved to New York. He later held the Jacob Berg chair in Yiddish at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts. In 1965 he moved to Southern Illinois University. He died in St. Louis.
Sources: An old acquaintance, in Vilner tog (Vilna) (October 14, 1938); Sh. Katsherginski, Tsvishn hamer un serp (Between hammer and sickle) (Buenos Aires, 1950), pp. 18-19; A. Sutskever, in Katsherginski-ondenk-bukh (Memorial volume for Katsherginski) (Buenos Aires, 1955), pp. 306-7; Leyzer Ran, in 25 yor yung-vilne (Twenty-five years of Young Vilna), an anthology (New York, 1955); Ran, in Der folks-mishpet (The people’s judgment) (New York: Jewish Labor Committee, 1956), p. 56; “Kaboles-ponem far mikhl astur” (Pre-wedding reception for Mikhl Astur), Afn shvel (New York) (January-February 1960); A. Leyeles, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (New York) February 21, 1960); S. Dingol, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (April 9, 1960); Elye Shulman, in Kultur un dertsiung (New York) (October 1960); Yankev Glatshteyn, in Tog-morgn-zhurnal (October 25, 1960); S. Regensburg, in Forverts (New York) (October 27, 1960); Afn shvel (November-December 1960), articles by A. Glants-Leyeles, M. Ravitsh, A. Sustkever, and L. Ran.
[More details on his life after the above was written may be found at: http://cosmos.ucc.ie/cs1064/jabowen/IPSC/php/authors.php?auid=18243]