Day 2 - Tykocin
Today was our first full day in Poland and we were all eagerly anticipating the lessons and experiences we were going to have. We all congregated in the breakfast room, ate and then had prayers. We then drove for 3 and a half hours which was filled with games of eye spy and heads up, sight seeing and music. The bus was abuzz with chatter about our hopes and anticipation for what the day had in store for us. This sense of solidarity and unity would continue to grow throughout the day.
We arrived in Tykocin, once a Jewish Shtettle and were able to see the way that Jews used to live. Walking through the cobbled streets of Tykocin was like walking back in time; with each blink I could almost see the Jewish children playing on the streets, the chanukiahs in the window sills on Chanukah and Jewish mothers preparing the house for Shabbat. With each step I feel a connection to my ancestors that I learnt about during my Hans Kimmel (heritage project) who lived in Bialystok (the region Tykocin is a part of) and can envisage their lives there.
All 180 of the people on IST, filled the only remaining shule in Tykocin and, arm in arm, hand in hand we sang, danced and celebrated the survival and triumph of our culture in the face of disaster. The prayers and paintings that decorated the walls sung with colour and life. On August 25th 1941, the Germans invaded the small town of Tykocin and forced the men to walk 7 km until they reached the forest with the women and children following behind in cattle cars. We followed the trail that they walked in our busses and arrived at the forest in Lupkachowa. We walked through the Forest, hand in hand and with Israeli flags on our backs. We followed a path for several minutes and stopped at a patch of ground, surrounded by a fence that was covered in yahrzeit candles and flags. Little did we know the atrocity that occurred there. The Nazis led the Jews of Tykocin to that place in the forest and lined them up at the top of a pit and, like sheep to the slaughter, were shot, one by one, children, doctors, mothers, teachers and fathers alike. We all stood around the pit and sung Acheinu, our prayer rising up through the trees. The tall trees, that once hid the horrors that happened within them from common view, now stand as a witness to the murder of the thousands of Jews that lived in Tykocin.
Everyone was silent, heads down, as we experienced the chilling atmosphere of the forest and through teary eyes we saw the three mass graves in which bodies were buried, naked and dirty, in the face of nazi persecution. We walked out of the forest, something we knew many that entered that forest weren't able to, and started our four and a half hour bus journey to our hotel.
From this day, in which we heard the story of a Jewish community that took so many years to build being shattered in a matter of hours, I learnt how to appreciate the Jewish community in which I come from and all of its unique customs. I am so grateful for the opportunity to come on this journey and the insight it brings.