Tykocin and Lopuchowo

July 19, 2019

There are no Jews in Tykocin today. It used to be one of the biggest Jewish settlements in Poland, apparently. On August 24, 1941, just two months after the Germans invaded the Soviet Union, it was announced that the Jews of the town must report to the town square the next morning. Most did exactly that. From August 25-26, 1941, the Germans, along with the help of Polish police, carried out the mass execution of the Tykocin Jews. Men, women, children, the elderly, the mentally and physically disabled. Very few escaped.

A forest near Lopuchowo was the place of extermination. The Jewish people were loaded onto trucks in the town square and driven out into this forest. There, killing pits had already be dug. Ready and waiting. The bus pulled over and we walked through what would have been a beautiful, green forest trail. Tall, thin trees and truly a stunning shade of green. Soft ground. We came upon the killing pits, now filled in. They are now called graves. And it turns my stomach. There are hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of people buried here. Horrible.

Decorated with flags, candles and stones. People herded to their death over two days. I knew we would not have much time here so I wanted to visit each pit, just a short distance from one to the other. I wanted to make sure I paused a moment to think about the families buried in each.

Darius, our guide, called to us to pay our respects and head back to the bus. The only thing I could think or say was I’m so sorry we didn’t do more. I feel shame and sadness that we left so many to die. This had nothing to do with me. Today, it has everything to do with me. I feel so sorry that I cannot help but want to apologize for the world’s silence. My apology means nothing to the people buried there. They are no more and there is almost no one to truly remember them; their names, their hopes and aspirations. They are all gone. There is nothing left but the flags, candles and stones and the structures built to mark the pits themselves.

How the world hasn’t learned is infuriating. I wish I could tell them how sorry I am. I wish I could tell them that I will remember them; tell others about them, about their fate and how the Jewish people continue to live despite the efforts of history to erase them. I am not Jewish, I am not a person of color, I am not of Hispanic descent, nor am I part of any group that is marginalized because of religion, ethnicity, nationality, sexual orientation, etc. Besides being a woman, I have not been a target due to any of these unfounded prejudices. But all of these people are, simply, people. They are my people and it is my responsibility to take action and stand up for those who are targeted. It always has been my responsibility. It has simply been reinforced. Our responsibility.