The Jews Received the Land Free - A Theory
Our theory is that the first Jews probably received the Drohitchin marshlands
from the landowner free of charge or in lease, so the Jews could cultivate it,
as described earlier. Evidence of this is that until World War I the Jews of
the shtetl paid
a kind of land tax, to the landlord or landlady of the nobleman's estate who
owned all the land of the shtetl.
(The following is a legend from the recent past: The Czarist regime was to give
away the nobleman's estate located near Drohitchin, as well as all the land of
Drohitchin as a gift to the hero of the Russo-Turkish War in 1877, General
Minkov. How was it that the nobleman's estate belonged to the Russian
government? The fact is that the nobleman's estate and the Drohitchin area had
previously belonged to a Polish nobleman who probably participated in Polish
revolts against Russia, such as the 1863 Matiesz uprising and earlier revolts.
The Czarist government punished him by confiscating his property, and gave it
to General Minkov. This was the same action the Russians had taken against
other Polish nobility.
* * *
[photo:] A section of Pinsker Street (spared by the fire) under German
occupation in 1916.
So it is more than probable that the ground on which the shtetl stood or still
stands was at one time a very deep valley into which the water from the
surrounding mountainous fields flowed; over time, the standing water soaked the
ground so much that it turned into a bay and a marsh. Later on, the bay was
drained, and a road was built in the middle of it, and right next to the road
the Jews built Drohitchin. However, around the shtetl, the bay, which we called
Vion, remained untouched. The ditches and the bridges that cut through the
shtetl are evidence of this: one is next to the sand, and the other is next to
the village of Zaritchka (the name of the village means "over the
creek" "retchka" in Russian means "creek").
Thus, the shtetl served to join the two Vions, so that the water would run from
one Vion into the other.
In the springtime, when the ice and snow would melt, and in autumn when the
great rains would begin and the water of the Vion reached the houses, the
shtetl would look like an island embraced by two great lakes.
In the middle of the summer the Vion would dry out a bit, and
moss, reeds, small weeping willows, etc. would grow there. Wagon-drivers'
horses from town would also graze there.
The Vion as a place for youth and sports
The Vion in the summer time was one of the greatest attractions and amusement
spots for the school children, especially on Fridays, when the children got out
around noon. The
boys would go around barefoot, roll up their pants, and run around in the moss
that brushed and tickled the soles of the feet. In certain spots the ground
would shake under your feet. This was a sign not to go any further, since if
you did, you could sink up to your neck.
We schoolboys took pleasure in goofing off at the Vion. Where else were we as
free as at the Vion? We played hide-and-seek in the high moss; we made whistles
from young willows or
we would tear the reeds and toss them to the wind like feathers or stick them
on each other's collar. We would go out onto the Vion mountains on the festival
of Shavuot and gather moss and spread it around and at home. On the festival of
Sukkot, we would cut down branches to cover the tops of sukkahs, willow
branches to be joined with the palm branches, and additional willows for the
last day of Sukkot,
In the winter the Vion served as a place to play sports for all the youth of
the shtetl. The youth would go sleigh riding with horses on the thick gleaming
ice that extended for a square mile, and perhaps even more.
Small fish, porgies, leeches and various other species of creatures creeping
animals multiplied. The area was also full of loaches, which the peasants used
for their special dishes.
[Photo:] The bridge next to the sand at the edge of town, under German
occupation during World War I.
* * *
At sunset in the summer the songs of the millions of frogs in the Vion was
heard throughout the shtetl. Every evening at sunset one frog would croak, then
a second, and then a third, until the whole shtetl was filled with the sounds
of croaking and creaking frogs. It was known as the sound of the frogs reciting
Kriat Shma [Hear O Israel]
prayers. The frogs used to spend the entire summer in town. We knew that spring
was here and summer was on its way as soon as the frogs started croaking at
sunset. The croaking of the frogs left me looking forward to the mild,
pleasant, and homey summer evenings that lulled me to sleep with sweet dreams...
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