Memoir — From the July 2013 issue

Other Types of Poison

Three legends

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Whether or not there were, at that moment, Jews hiding in the closets of the little lake house, no one can now remember. The point is that there had been, and there often were, and there would be again; and even if there was no human ballast holding that house to the shore, surely there were other things as incriminating. Likewise, it is unclear, more than six decades on, whether the soldiers were even German, or whether they were the Russian liberators who so soon became the Russian occupiers. That summer, both were equally likely.

The soldiers pounded at the door looking for whatever nineteen-year-olds in uniforms are always looking for: food, lodging, sex, warmth, inebriation, water. In other words, the closest subconscious approximation of their mothers.

They found at this particular house an eight-year-old boy and a woman far too formidable to rape. They found kohlrabi soup and ate it, and they found the boy’s swing set, a four-legged frame sitting right in the water, with a swing to jump from and a slide that ended beneath the surface. They left their clothes on the shore and swung from the top beam and broke the whole thing. If no one has exhumed its bones, it is still at the bottom of Lake Balaton. When night fell and there was insufficient firewood, they tore the books apart and threw those on the fire. They demanded socks. The woman said, “Would you prefer a lady’s size or a small boy’s?”

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