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[Pages 73-75]

Di Ozere (The Lake)

Translated by Judy Grossman

Rasya Tal (Kagan): The water of our lake was as pure as crystal. How wonderful it was to bathe in it! The sand on the lakeshore was as clean as sifted flour.

Yitzchak Toker: The lake was an important part of our childhood experience, and in the life of the shtetl in general. Bentzi Segal lived near the lake, and he had sleds. We would drag a sled from his yard and slide down the slope to the lake. In the summer, my brother Leibl would rent a boat from a Gentile, and would sail in the moonlight until midnight. He would fold up his pants legs, sit in the bow and dip his feet in the water, and I would join him.

Micha Baron: The school stood on the lakeshore, and during recess we would go out to skate with the teachers. Especially around Hanukah, the lake served as a place of entertainment. We all knew how to skate. From when we were young, we would build a kind of sled and slide down the slope. The stories were told from generation to generation. I also remember stealing a large sleigh. A bunch of us sat on it, a gentle push – and we were already on the frozen lake. One moonlit night we couldn't resist the temptation and got into Bentzi Segal's sleigh, which was laden with flax. Apparently because of the weight, the sleigh slid up to the island in the middle of the lake, and suddenly – shouts! Bentzi caught us at our misbehaviour, and we fled. It happened that we once swiped a sleigh and it broke. The next day we came to pay for the damage.

Rivka Levitt: We were one of the few families that had a boat. We would sit in it, with our legs dangling in the water, and the water as calm as a mirror. Just a light touch of the oars in the water and the boat would gather momentum and sail. In the summer, when it was hot and sultry, there was no greater pleasure than getting into the boat and sailing, especially at night, and we used to sing and laugh.

Rachel Rabinowitz (Slovo): We would imagine that we were sailing on the Sea of Galilee...

“We would imagine that we were sailing on the Sea of Galilee”.
Dov (Berke) Levitt and Lanka Visakolsky

Rivka Shteinman (Shub): Once a large group of children gathered on the frozen lake – perhaps in honour of some occasion, as was popular. We began to dance, and suddenly the ice cracked, and children began sinking into the water. Only by a miracle was a serious tragedy averted, and I don't know how.

Shmuel Levitt: The lake also claimed victims. Yisrael-Velvel Glick and his son Honke drowned in it, several years apart.

Slovka Sarver (Segal): At a certain point on the lakeshore there was an area that the Germans had deepened during WWI, and several tragedies occurred there. Honke's father drowned there. It was already dark. He had returned to the shtetl in a wagon with a Gentile, wanted to shorten his way, got out of the wagon and crossed the frozen lake near the bare area. The ice cracked and he fell into the water. His winter coat apparently soaked up a lot of water and Yisrael-Velvel began to sink. His shouts were heard on the shore, but apparently because of the darkness they were unable to rescue him.

I also remember the case of Honke's drowning. It was on Wednesday, market day. I went to the lake with Lanka Visakolsky, to the area where the girls bathed. Suddenly we saw a crowd, and heard cries for help. Apparently Honke and his friend Yitzchak Yoffe had gone into the lake, when Honke suddenly disappeared! Yitzchak stood dumbfounded and shocked, and didn't understand how the water had swallowed Honke. This case of drowning hit us all hard, and we were astounded. Both father and son had drowned!

Shayke Glick: Thanks to the lake we also had excellent swimmers. The two good friends Michke Slep and Noachke Poritz used to swim back and forth for long distances, and Elke (Eliyahu) Baron too.

Lanka Binder (Lana Visakolsky): Dvorka Barolski and I were excellent swimmers too.

Shmuel Levitt: When the lake and river froze, we used to make holes in the ice and throw in a line to fish. When there was a thin and transparent layer of ice, we could see the fish through it, and then we would lightly tap the ice with a wooden hammer, the fish would become confused and gather together, and it was easy to catch them.

Shayke Glick: There were perlovkes - holes dug in the ice by the fishermen. From there they would transport large blocks of ice to the ice cellars. The law required the perlovkes to be fenced, in order to prevent catastrophes. Expert workers put up the fences.

Rivka Shteinman (Shub): Once four of us were on a sled when a perlovke, which apparently had not been fenced, suddenly opened up, and we fell into the water. Our clothes, especially our heavy coats, soaked up a lot of water, and I remember that we hurried into the nearby house (which belonged to the spinster sisters who sewed brassieres) to dry out beside the stove. If we had continued walking, our coats would have frozen and it is hard to describe the difficulty of walking in stiff, frozen clothes, and how weird and funny one's gait becomes.

Lanka Binder (Visakolsky): And how can we forget the horse races on the ice?

Shayke Glick: The neighbouring Gentiles used to breed horses for racing, and in the winter there would be races on several tracks on the frozen lake. They would remove the snow before the race, but more than once a first gust of wind would pile snow on the track, and they would have to clean it again.

Malka Gilinsky (Feldman): It was a holiday for the Gentiles. They would come in sleighs and decorated carriages, and we would watch from the side. It was such a colourful sight.

Tzila Gudelsky (Shub): The horse race would take place every year on the second of February. It was a holiday, not only for the Gentiles, but also for Ziv's inn and for the shopkeepers.

And how can we forget the horse races on the ice?

 

Reflections on the shores of the lake

On the frozen lake (Sept. 26, 1934). From right to left: Libka Kasimov, Mirka Baron, Mirka Slep (Hanoch Schwartz in the baby stroller), Henka Slep, Nehamka Patz, Kehat Slep, Rasya Kagan, Micha Baron, Sheinke Chaitowitz.

 

In a lane on the slope to the lake.
“To Sara'le in Eretz Yisrael
from Hanoch'l in Dusiat”

 

Batya Yardeni (Milun): I was a baby when my father left for South Africa, and I was told that my father was across the sea. There was an island in the middle of the lake, and when the lake used to freeze over, I would point at the island and say that my father was there, and that I wanted to go to him.

I also remember four airplanes landing on the frozen lake, and my mother calling us to come and look at them. This was in 1928. We were playing at the Shubs' and ran to see the wonder!

My brother Yankele was curious by nature and he climbed into the plane. The entire shtetl wanted to see this marvellous sight. Airplanes! There was not even electricity in the shtetl yet, and water was drawn from the well…

 

The island in the middle of the lake.

Standing, from right to left: sisters Rasya and Tzirka Kagan
In the boat: Reinka Levin (from Antalept) and Itale Charit.
Naava Levi ( Shoham): My mother, Rivka Melamed, would tell us about her brother Avraham, who was a talented skater, and would go from the top of the “mountain” to the island in the lake in one swoop. The Gentiles would react with amazement: “A Jew?!”

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