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[Page 77]

The Scenery of Ciechanowiec

[Page 87]

The Nurzec and the Forest

by Tehila (Ashlagi) Silberberg, Kfar Vitkin, Israel

Translated to English by Zvika Zmora

Our town was known as a “twinning town”, divided by the river Nurzec that flows onto the Bug. The river bestowed a few advantages on the town– some of them economic and some for the pleasure of the people.

The connection between the two parts was by means of bridges. There were “de alte bricken” (the Old Bridges) near the flour-mills of Zilberberg-Winer, that burned down together with the town in World War I. When the Germans entered the town, they built new bridges that were called “de naye bricken” (the New Bridges). Their location was not far from the former bridges. These bridges were burned down later, when the Polish army retreated under the pressure of the Bolsheviks in 1920, but they were renewed after some time.

For us, the youngsters, the river was a continuous source of aquatic entertainment – bathing and boating. We used to rent boats from “Yankel Der Fisher” who lived in “Dvoritz”. It was an ancient building, built years ago by Graf Checherski, who owned the lands in and around the town. The house was built in the style of a castle in the middle of an orchard. Before WWI, the house was inhabited by officials of the Russian authorities, but after the town was burned down, the house was occupied by some poor homeless families – among them “Yankel Der Fisher” . Near the house there was an anchorage for boats that once used to entertain the Czar's officials. Later on it accommodated Yankel's boats for our pleasure, the Ciechanowiec youngsters.

Each season we derived different pleasures from the river. In winter, when the river froze, the town's youngsters used it for winter sports. When summer arrived, the town would actually “reside” at the banks of the river and in its water. The banks were especially crowded on Friday afternoon. Then the river would be bustling with many bathers who came to cleanse themselves in honor of Shabbat.

In the Ciechanowiec school boys and girls studied together. When they arrived at the river, they split according to gender and bathed in separate parts, since in those days bathing suits were not known yet in Ciechanowiec. The girls used to bathe near “The Kazarer Kartshes” behind the tall bushes, and any man who controlled his impulse would not dare turn his head and peep beyond the permitted “boundary”. Yet, young people who would be overcome by their impulse, would sneak secretly and peep beyond the bushes. Contemporary jokers would say, “They only tasted, but nothing was wasted”. The town's elders would move heaven and earth, claiming that the river was inciting the young people and corrupting their good virtues. But that was a futile attitude, since even after bathing suits became common, bathing together remained “illegal”.

There was a prevalent myth in our town that every year the river demands its sacrifice. Indeed, I remember several cases of drowning. I especially recall the drowning of the boy Berele Steinberg, that left us grief-stricken.

The river constituted the main source of drinking water for the citizens of the Naye Stadt. There was no plumbing system, and water for drinking and washing would be carried in buckets. Most families used to bring the water from the river themselves; but people of means would use the services of Chayim ²Ïjbeh”, who made a living this way. Those who lived far from the river used to pump water from wells. There were two wells – one in the center of the market; the second on the hill in “Wolya”. People of refined taste pumped the water for boiling tea from the one on the hill, because it was distilled and tasted better.

The river also served as a collective “refrigerator”. At those times there were no electric or even regular refrigerators. In winter we used to saw big lumps of ice and store them in cooling cellars (“livdavnayes”). The ice was used for keeping cooked-food cool, for the soda pop industry and mainly for the tasty marojna (ice cream), that was made purely from eggs, sour cream and milk. Shloimele Gonsior was the owner of a cold drinks factory and also of a big cooling cellar. When somebody was sick and needed ice to lower his temperature, Shloimele would give the ice for free, as a mitzva.

At fall the river would change tremendously. It would be covered with a carpet of leaves and reeds, and it looked like one could “slice” its water. But in the season when the snow melted, the river would lose its temper, and the sight was dreadful.

Our town was abundant with beautiful natural sites of which the crown was the forest. It was a pine forest that spread over many kilometers and actually touched the outskirts of the town. Close to the forest there stood some wooden houses, which before WWI were used as summer dwellings for vacationers who came from Warsaw, the capital city.

The forest was divided by a road that led to Czyzew. At a distance of 3-4 kilometers the road diverged to two directions: one led to Czyzew, and the other one led to Danir (Nur). The one to Czyzew led a from there to Malkin and to Treblinka… The crossing place was called Zakret (a turn). This place was the destination of those hikers who would take a longer trip.

On sunny days, especially on Saturdays, the forest was bustling with vacationers. In the evenings it was taken over by the youngsters.

The forest was especially beautiful in winter, when it was wrapped with snow and frost. In winter the road became “a battle field” of snowball (gomulkes) fights.

I was told by older people that in the time of the Czar, the forest had been used as a secret assembly place by illegal political parties. But sometimes, it also served as a hiding-place for bandits, who used to rob the cart drivers who traveled through the forest.

During those wonderful years of childhood and adolescence, when we drew plenty of joy and delight of youth from the forest, we could not foresee that on this same route, on the road that crossed the forest, the people of our town would pass on their last march to the crematoriums of Treblinka.

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