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.