The village of Tykocin was included in
a package tour, when I visited Poland in October 1998, otherwise
I probably never would have visited it, and would have missed
this highly interesting piece of Jewish history.
Tykocin is on the river Narew in the
province of Bialystok in northeastern Poland and is east of the
former Nazi extermination camp at Treblinka, just before you
get to Bialystok, which is the closest large town, 40 kilometers
to the east. This area is on the border between Poland and Belarus
which became an independent country in 1991 after the breakup
of the Soviet Union.
Tykocin used to be an important trade
center and at one time, the whole town was owned by King Zygmunt
August, who acquired it from a noble Polish family in 1548. The
King maintained a secondary royal residence at Radziwill Castle
just outside the town, which was where the national arsenal was
kept until the castle was destroyed in 1657 during a war with
the Swedes. The King's main castle was on Wawel hill in Krakow,
which was the capital of Poland until King Zygmunt III Waza moved
to Warsaw in 1596, following the merger of Poland and Lithuania.
The first ten families of Jews to settle
in Tykocin were invited there in 1522 by the noble family that
owned the town; by 1800, the population was 70% Jewish. Before
World War II, the village had 5,000 inhabitants, half of them
Catholics and the other half Jewish. According to my tour guide,
all of the 2,500 Jewish residents of Tykocin were taken to the
nearby Lupochowo forest and shot by the Nazis in the Summer of
1941. The town has never recovered from this loss and is now
in a state of decline with fewer residents today.
In his comprehensive book "The Holocaust,"
Martin Gilbert does not mention the murder of the Jews in Tykocin,
but he does write about a Polish couple from the town who were
killed by the Nazis for helping the Jews.
Here is how the Encyclopedia Judaica
describes the destruction of the Jews of Tykocin:
"During the first days of the
occupation, a pogrom was conducted by the Poles (with the encouragement
of the Germans), and Jewish property was looted. The Jews were
drafted for forced labor and freedom of movement was limited.
On August 25, 1941, the Jews of the town were called to assemble
in the market square. After a Selektion, about 1,400 people were
transported to large pits that had been prepared near the city
and were murdered. Some of the Jews succeeded in hiding, but
the next day they were caught and executed by the Polish police.
About 150 people found temporary shelter in the Bialystok ghetto
and in the surrounding townlets, later perishing together with
the members of those communities. After the war a few of the
survivors returned to Tykocin, but they were subject to attacks
by gangs of Polish nationalists that were active in the area;
as a result, they left the city."
Tykocin looks the same as it did before
World War II, according to my tour guide, and probably much the
same as it did in the 17th century, except that there are no
Jewish people living in the town now. The tour guide said that
Poland had a population of 3.5 million Jews before the war, and
only 10,000 to 12,000 in 1998, with 4,000 of them living in Warsaw,
which is the major city that is closest to Tykocin.