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[Page 425]

Tykocin in Ruins

Translated by Selwyn Rose

O Lord who art full of compassion!
The annihilation of Tykocin
These will I remember – lists of the Holy Martyrs of Tykocin
Weeping and eulogy
Stories of the survivors of the Tykocin Holocaust
Tykocin after the Holocaust
Tykocin people who died for their Brethren and for their Country.

[Page 427]

“El Maleh Rahamim”[1]

Translated by Selwyn Rose

O Lord Who Art Full of Compassion

O Lord who art full of compassion and dwelleth on high,
None is like unto thee among the mighty,
Who hearest the cry of the oppressed.
Grant a perfect rest in the shadow of thy divine presence to those who stretched
out their necks like doves to greet the sword's sharp edge.
Raising them up on high with the saintly and the pure,
Bright as the brightness of the sky,
Bound up beneath the honored seat
In the company of fallen knights.
The soul of the heroes,
Who study the easy as well as the difficult,
Leaders of a righteous community,
Are slaughtered like deer and bulls;
Then came the cursed infidels
Like a bear lying in ambush;
Our inheritance was taken by strangers.
We were satiated with the bitterest of the bitter,
World scholars, righteous of the land,
Builders of fences and bulwarks against intrusions,
They wept for each annihilation and decree.
Our heart cried,
For the crown on our head,

[Page 428]

Our soul in torment for what our ear heard.
Because G–d had astonished our fathers,
And atoned for all our sins.
Who studied G–d's laws days and nights,
Who elucidated the impressions of the young and the wise;
Were thrust into a land of vineyards,
They were turned into rivers and lakes of blood.
The hooks on the pillars and stakes,
They taught the Torah and introduced many students,
They fell into the hands of traitors and thieves,
They became the burning fire that blazed.
Careful and rapid in the commandments of G–d,
The brilliant Rabbi Yechiel
Raised his hand and his heart to G–d,
O, Ariel, Ariel,
Most desired and cherished from above and below,
Among the dwellers on high and the dwellers below,
They cut his head with a burning sword,
Immaculate leaders of the holy ones above,
Shout out crying bitterly,
See, O Lord, our shame and behold it.
How they were debased and shamed,
Robbed and broken and annulled.
Both the Greeks and the Ishmaelites agreed
To uproot the swamp together,
The Lord is one and His name is One.
All who are pleasant to the eye killed with every weapon.
Considered as if of nothing,
Targeted them and swallowed them as in the wink of an eye.
The dwellers of the city did not believe,

[Page 429]

That a bitter enemy would come upon them,
Their eyes wept and their cry was bitter.
And G–d preferred an ox to a bull;
They offered up their bodies,
The children trembled at the breasts of their mothers,
Their lives ended and their sighs many.
Avenge O, G–d with your vengeance and their vengeance and that of the avengers,
G–d is a Man of war,
Send among them confusion,
And let them be looted and destroyed.
In their anger they ripped the Sefer Torah
They burned it and trod on it and destroyed it and trampled upon it,
And why do they say where is the one who they fear,
There is no G–d for all their plans.
Awake, awake, why do you sleep,
A nation without a script and a language,
Raised their hand against the apple of your eye
Confused them and chased them in the Kishon valley.
Suddenly a horrible death,
Upon the cedars of Lebanon is the strength of the Torah
Neither did they have a burial,
Ariel – they shouted bitterly.
Dance and be merry the murdered of the congregations,
For their souls are bound up with the highest of the high,
And to the scent of sacrifices,
And to the pleasant aroma of sacrifices,
Let He who repays make them repay.
Arise O, Lord and let your enemies be dispersed,
We were killed for you all day,
My soul spewed forth from the evil of your friends,
Avenge the blood of your servants.

[Page 430]

See O Lord and behold,
For we have sunk low,
By a sunken nation.
And they that despoil you shall despoil.
Imprisoned and despoiled they were led to a land unknown.
The gentle and delicate were sent away thirsty,
How will one chase one hundred,
A village into a valley of crime and sin.
Torah, Torah wear a sack and be covered in ashes,
For their blood is spilled as spouting water,
Avenge your Torah that was burned by strangers,
Or would You, who creates mountains, hold back!
And therefore the Lord of mercy, will him for eternity in the security of his wings,
And may he be bound up with eternal life,
G–d, He is their portion,
And may they rest in peace – Amen.

This version of “El Maleh Rahamim” was taken from an old book of The Psalms, hand–written and illuminated, that was found in the old Tykocin synagogue. From a handwritten inscription in the front of the book we are informed that the writer and artist is Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf the son of Rabbi Issachar (ZT”L) , of the Holy Community of Korab. The version appears at the end of the book followed by an uncompleted commentary on “The Great Taboo”. The Tykocin legend relates that the writer died while actually writing it. There is no clue in book or legend as to the author's identity.

(See: Yisrael Halperin: “El Maleh Rahamim”, “World” 1930 Vol. IX and the comments of R.M. Hazan in Vol. XI).

Translator's caveat

  1. The “El Maleh Rahamim” prayer quoted on page 427 et seq. is a unique and much extended version of the standard prayer recited at funerals and other appropriate memorial occasions. While it does contain the nine or ten standard lines of the well–known prayer, there are several dozens of added lines by the unknown author (see the paragraph immediately following the prayer). The Hebrew (and Aramaic) used is exceptionally esoteric and abstruse with many references that seem to be connected with the personal life of the author and hence has made a fluent and easily readable translation, consistent with the regular poetical and liturgical flow of the prayer, particularly difficult to render. The reader's understanding and indulgence would be appreciated. Return

[Page 431]

The Holocaust in Tykocin

Translated by Selwyn Rose

The year 1939 brought a black, threatening shadow over the whole of Europe. Hitler's battalions flooded Czechoslovakia and Poland and began to spread the testament of racism and hatred that had for years been nurtured in Alfred Rosenberg's “universities” and its students, in Berlin and Munich.

In the beginning, the war did not impact Tykocin severely. During September, immediately with the outbreak of war, units of the German army passed through Tykocin remaining there for only three days. But during those three days they succeeded in casting the stain of their brutality over the whole population. On the first day they incarcerated all the males – Jewish and Polish alike – in the large church and held them captive there under heavy guard for three days without food or water, until they left Tykocin. In the meantime, they invaded all the houses, robbing and destroying at will whatever came to hand.

Six weeks later, on the eve of Yom Kippur, 24th September 1939, they again struck at Tykocin this time during their retreat in the face of the Red Army. While the Jewish people were congregating in the synagogues for the Day of Atonement evening prayer of “Kol Nidrei”, five trucks appeared in town. The soldiers smashed their way with axes into Jewish shops, loading all the looted goods onto their trucks and made their way to the Duza(?) Junction – the agreed border with Soviet Russia.

The Jews could not yet breathe freely because of the fear that fell upon them from a mob of undefined riffraff and reactionaries trailing after the retreating German army. These elements busied themselves with spreading poisonous false tales such as the Jews of Grodno and other towns were pouring boiling water on the heads of Polish soldiers and deserved to be punished. Jews found in the streets were beaten without mercy, among them the most estimable Mr. Avraham Horowitz who was so severely beaten that he failed to recover and never rose from his bed, passing away after two weeks. While other Tykocin Jews poured out their emotions before their Creator on Judgment Day, outside a pogrom was being organized and who knows how it would have ended had not that very same day the tanks of the Red Army rolled into Tykocin.

[Page 432]

The Russians were naturally received warmly by the Jews who saw them, justifiably, as their saviors and redeemers and in grateful recognition saw themselves obliged to cooperate with the Soviet authorities who – in their eyes and at that time – represented a correct form of government founded on the principles of fellowship, freedom and equality.

For more than a year the Jewish population lived in peace and serene security under the wings of the Soviet authority and several of the younger members of the community even found important positions in the local government. But the unexpected and traitorous attack by Germany on 22nd June 1941 put an end to that situation. The Russian army retreated in alarmed disarray. Central towns and important strategic positions fell into the hands of the Germans one after the other before the “Blitzkrieg” that, in order not to delay its momentum, by–passed some provinces and small villages like Tykocin.

Once again Tykocin found itself given over to bands of unrestrained Polish hooligans, especially those of the underground extremist right “Nara” party that came to the forefront in the interregnum between governments. The homes of the Jewish population and their property were confiscated and even physical harm perpetrated against some. Sadly, among the mobs were many residents of Tykocin and the surroundings that were, or had been for generations, on good terms with the Jewish community not only for business reasons but also on a basis of friendly good–neighborliness.

Hundreds of Poles, whose lust for loot inflamed their minds, ran wild in Tykocin's Jewish homes and didn't stop until they had stripped virtually the houses bare of everything moveable. The local farmers abandoned their work, hitched up their horses to their carts and hurried to Tykocin to make sure of their share of the booty. Within two days family possessions acquired during generations of toil were lost forever. In some of the houses the rioters left not so much as a saucepan to cook in or a chair to sit on. The Jews dared not leave their homes for fear of their lives, or in effect be handed over to the Polish “police” who were quick to organize themselves from among the dark elements with one Antek Yakouvyak(?), an ex–shepherd, in whose eyes the property and blood of the Jews were simply abandoned

[Page 433]

At the end of June the Germans entered Tykocin. At first a small platoon appeared that busied itself with evacuating and refurbishing the old Soviet municipality building. The cleaning and all the other degrading and menial tasks were carried out by the elite of the Jewish community under orders from the Germans who supplied long brooms for the task. The rumor spread that when the work was completed the Germans intended to take the Jews to the Jewish cemetery and execute them but when the work was done they were simply released to return home to their great relief and the sorrow of the Poles. With the completion of their mission the platoon left ahead of the oncoming one.

No Germans were seen in Tykocin during the next few days but that didn't bring to an end the persecution of the Jews. The Poles, feeding on encouragement from the barbaric behavior of the Germans, shed none of their anti–Semitism and continued to persecute the Jews without the need of any help from their German “masters'. Moreover, this time it took on an air of being more organized. First of all the Jewish population of Tykocin was ordered to wear an armband with a blue Star of David on a white background on their left arm. The Jewish youth was taken for forced labor draining sewage ditches, clearing areas over–grown with weeds and street cleaning, all under the controlling eyes of the Polish police, their classmates of yesterday, who performed their duties with rubber clubs in their hands and curses on their lips. “What the Russians dirtied and destroyed – you, the Jews are going to repair” – they would say because they saw the Jews of Tykocin as collaborators with their enemies the Bolsheviks and even treated them as such. Jan Fibich, an ethnic German, and openly an oppressor of the Jews, who was the last Mayor of the town while it was still ostensibly Polish was now reinstalled in that position by the German authorities, and increased his activities against the Jewish population. He forwarded to the County governor in Łomża a letter with an attached list naming many young Tykocin Jews accusing them of communism and cooperation with the Russian occupation. The special Investigating Tribunal headed by Edmund Wishnewski, commenced investigating the incident and reported to Łomża on similar events and conspiracies as if perpetrated by the Jews and the Jewish police of Tykocin on Poles in Tykocin and its surroundings. The Jews of Tykocin were victims of false charges and their lives hung by a thread. The youngsters especially were afraid since indeed some of them had worked in the service of the Soviet authorities.

[Page 434]

While the Jews of Tykocin were still fearful of their own fate, the town was flooded with a wave of refugees; they came with tales of fearful atrocities to tell: hundreds of Jews from Wizna (Vizhna) and Jedwabne (Yedvabna) were imprisoned in a large barn which was then set on fire with hundreds of men, women and small children inside. In Trzcianne (Trestiny) one sole German, with the assistance of local Poles, killed five–hundred Jews in one day. If there remained a spark of life in any one of them that too, was extinguished.

They further related that there were other decrees and calamities: the dark elements that governed the town forbad all contact between the Polish and Jewish populations. It was also forbidden to bring in the most essential of foodstuffs. The Jews' houses had in any case been emptied earlier so there was increased hunger and deprivation and even milk for the young children and babies was unobtainable. The situation was tragic and no ray of hope for the future was discernible.

On 16th August five German policemen appeared in town. It subsequently became known that they had in their possession an order to liquidate the Jewish population of Tykocin. But the Germans, wolves in sheep's clothing, pretended they had come to save the Jewish population from the oppressive hand of the Poles. And indeed – the first day they passed from house to house, expressing regrets on the disturbances and thefts and hastened to promulgate an order that all Poles who had looted or stolen property from the Jews must return it immediately to the rightful owner. Many Jews fell victim to the sweet seductiveness of the Germans and their faith was strengthened when the Poles began to complain and accused the Germans of selling themselves to the Jews for profiteering. But at the same time they were visiting, the “friends” published an order forbidding the Jewish residents to leave town. On the second day of their arrival David Hirsch Surawicz (the son of Haim Porozniak) was shot while he was walking to the nearby village of Sierki to get some minimal food supplies. It was also reported from person to person that tens of Poles under the control of the German police were digging three large trenches in the Łopuchowo Forest; no one knew what they were for. Some people immediately saw this in the worst possible light while others were more optimistic and saw the work as being for some kind of military or strategic purpose such as anti–tank artillery or fuel reserves.

Hearts were torn between hope and fear. Alongside the hope that was aroused in the wake of the Germans' behavior a latent fear sprang up that fed itself on events and from the tales of evil from among the ranks of the enemy that followed one after the other. Nobody knew what the day would bring forth and no one knew what to decide. The heads of the community came with a profusion of suggestions but no one had a remedy for their confused co–religionists and in the absence of firm advice all had to decide intuitively how to react to the threat of death hovering above their head. The town's doctor, Dr. Moshe Turek was sent to the local Priest to find out what the trenches were for but he returned empty–handed.

[Page 435]

The Jews of Tykocin found themselves confined as if in a corral, cut off from the world. Thanks to the vibrant community life that had been created they were unable to recognize that they were indeed condemned to an enclosed life. From within the security of their faith in G–d, Blessed be He, they were certain that a savior would be sent to redeem the community of Tykocin. On the day of their calamity the town's beloved Rabbi, the Gaon Rabbi Ab'eleh strove to quieten and calm the people. Other Jews, G–d–fearing and otherwise, encouraged their brethren in the community not to fall into the arms of despair. Among them the son–in–law of Rabbi Itche Meir Shapira, was particularly conspicuous, going from house–to–house with comforting words for all. But the community refused to be comforted…

On Sunday 24th August 1941 at 6 o'clock in the evening the loud voice of the town crier, Yablonsky, was heard in the streets. “All the Jews of Tykocin, women and children, young and old, except the sick and deformed, will congregate tomorrow, 25th August, at 6 o'clock in the morning, in the town's market place.” The town's community leaders immediately convened a meeting in the Rabbi's house. There were those who were committed to fleeing the town but others, the majority, felt there was no chance in pinning their hope in such a measure, convinced that it was doomed to failure from the outset because of the hostility of the local Polish population and the fear of incurring the wrath of the Germans who would not refrain from harming those who remain. The prevailing opinion was to obey the instructions and assemble as one in the market square. The information spread throughout the town like lightning and Tykocin remained perplexed.

At 9 o'clock that evening, when the curfew came into force, the local militia patrols (“Hilfspolizei”) were on the streets to prevent the Jews from contacting each other and thus frustrating any attempt to escape. It was a night of self–preservation full of fear for the Jews of Tykocin.

The following morning saw tens of families hurrying to the market square, dressed in winter clothing and parcels of belongings in their hands as if prepared for a journey. At the side of the square stood a table where a policeman was waiting and registering the names of everyone. But it was clear this was being done only to hold the attention of the people for as

[Page 436]

long as possible. More and more people came and when the market square was full to overflowing the Gestapo stopped the registration of those present and ordered the Polish police who were assisting them to close off the entire square from all sides.

The loud orders of the murderers carried from one edge of town to the other and the Hilfspolizei carried out their orders in the “best traditions” of the Polish Haidamacks[1]. Just before 7 o'clock they picked up their rubber whips and began sorting the collected population into three groups: one – artisans and professionals, two: the youth and youngsters, and the third the old people. The unruly behaviour and the facial expressions of the Germans, with their crude implications, of the intended murder and robbery removed all hope and illusion. A very few, who found the courage and initiative and a lucky chance, succeeded in escaping from the market square in time.

At exactly 7 o'clock seven trucks drove into the square carrying Gestapo officers and men. Poking from the last truck were the threatening barrels of machine–guns. The Gestapo platoon jumped off the trucks, surrounded the square and began a second sorting of the people this time according to the German love of “order”. On one side stood the women, children and elderly and in the second group all the men capable of marching “normally” in ranks of four and at the head of the long file, for aesthetic reasons, they placed the tallest of the group – Chezkel, “Der Hoicher” (The Tall One – Yiddish), Ya'acov Choroshuka, timber–trader and his son–in–law of Moshe Zak and after them a trio of musicians: Daniel Deutsch the tailor, playing a trumpet, Shmuel'ke Sokolovitz (Sokolowicz) the drummer Eli Kafka with his violin. The Gestapo ordered them to play “Hatikva” but with changed words that only then they had been taught by the German devils:

“When Yiddish blood is shed,

Hitler knows he's winning the war.”

And thus, with the “encouragement” of the whips, the crowd being led to the slaughter was forced to join in singing the words to the angry demands of the Germans and Poles, as the march to their death commenced.

The long line of marchers stretched for more than a kilometer turning onto the main highway towards the village of Zawady. The German and Polish guards surrounded them and stragglers were likely to be shot. When the men–folk had left the market square, the “humanitarian lords and masters” in their jackboots loaded all the remaining people from the square on to the seven trucks with the help of four of the men who had been kept behind for that purpose, and the trucks followed the route of the marchers.

[Page 437]

The skies darkened and a light rain began to fall. The Jews cast sad glances at the town they knew so well, not knowing if they would ever see it again. Suddenly the sound of shots was heard. Old Shmuel'ke Babitzki, whose tired old legs could no longer sustain him[2] gradually lagged behind. The murderers didn't hesitate: a shot rang out and he fell at the roadside and there they left him, a bullet in his head; the first mile–stone on the blood–drenched march.

The journey continued somewhat sluggishly although the beatings of the slower ones came quickly and mercilessly by the Polish police. The convoy arrived at the Jeżewó (Yezhow) junction and from there on the Wizna road to the village of Zawady. There the trucks arrived and everyone was herded into the local school building that became a prison for the day. When the school–house became full, the overflow was told they were being taken to the ghetto of Czerwony Bór. Even the Polish police accompanying them confirmed it and all of them were returned to Tykocin.

But the Jews were not transported to the ghetto. Every ten minutes a truck appeared loaded with tens of Jews and made its way in the direction of the Łopuchowo Forest. Three trenches had been dug there. Two of them were quite large, each one 12 meters long, 4 meters wide and 5 meters deep. The third was smaller. As the loaded trucks came in, the Jews were off–loaded, forced and thrown into one of the larger trenches. Machine–guns in previously prepared emplacements on the edges of the trench then opened fire and mercilessly mowed down the people in the trench until not one soul remained alive. Every ten minutes another truck came in and unloaded its human cargo and the horrifying spectacle repeated until the evening brought the total of those slaughtered to over 1,400 Tykocin Jews. As night fell, the trenches were filled and covered over by local Poles under the control of the Germans who attempted to blur the facts of their barbarism by telling them they were the bodies of victims of war dead brought here for burial. Later the Polish workers who had filled the trenches related how for hours the ground continued to heave from the movements of the dead and dying bodies interred there. But the murderers had not finished.

After a night of “celebrating” that the Polish “Elite” of Tykocin had prepared for them at the end of the “operation” the Germans renewed the process the following day.

[Page 438]

Accompanied by the Polish police they entered every house bringing out all the old and sick who had been unable to walk to the market square the previous day – more than 7–hundred souls, loaded them onto trucks and transported them to the Łopuchowo Forest. There, they were thrown into the second trench and again the machine–guns opened fire and the Poles covered the bodies and filled the trench. At 2 o'clock on 26th August the Devil's agents had completed their work and the ancient Jewish community of Tykocin, so richly endowed, had been wiped from the face of the earth.

The Tykocin Jewish community was the first in the area to be totally liquidated while the Jewish communities of Knyszyn (Knyshin), Sokoly (Skala), Mazowieckie, Choroszcz (Choroshtch) and other close–by communities remained trapped in ghettos and remained alive until November 1942 at which time the entire area was declared “Judenrein.”[3]

About 150 Tykocin Jews managed, somehow or another, to escape and hide in Bialystok or Sokoly, in the homes of villagers, bunkers and the forests; they were mostly caught and liquidated, some during “Aktsias” in the Bialystok ghetto and others at the hands of the police or Gestapo when discovered. Those found in the area of Tykocin were taken to the third trench in the Łopuchowo Forest where they met the same fate as their brethren.

Empty and forlorn, the homes of the Tykocin Jews stood as monuments to the terrible catastrophe. Whatever was left of value from the Jewish homes was piled in the streets of the town, the old synagogue became a store room for agricultural implements and other articles and furniture that still had some value was distributed among the police and local officials or auctioned off at public sales for nominal sums. The wooden homes were dismantled and the timber sold to local farmers for pennies, stone buildings were razed and the town center, once populated by the Jews became a pile of ruins. The ancient synagogue as well found no reprieve, neither by its own right nor by virtue of the righteous men who had prayed there and when the order was given it fell together with the rest. The furnishings – the pews, tables, the large entrance–doors, the Bema and the Holy Ark were all plundered or used as kindling. The old synagogue, the luxurious and holy “shul” remained stripped of its beauty and glory, mourning and ashamed, an isolated remainder of Tykocin Jewry.

The murderers were not satisfied with the liquidation of the Jews and theft of their property but were determined to remove all trace of the very existence of the Tykocin community, and drunk from their blood–lust they vented their anger on the stones and timber. They destroyed the walls of the old Tykocin cemetery, shattering the caskets, turning the entire area into a pasture for cattle, smashing tombstones of the holy and righteous men prayed over by generations of Jews, using the stone for paving–stones.

[Page 439]

The ancient esteemed community of Tykocin was ruined and erased from the face of the earth but with its destruction Tykocin was raised up as a heavenly Tykocin and thus she remains in our hearts.

(From “The Life and Times of The Jews of Tykocin during the Time of the German Occupation” written by the Attorney Menahem Turek in Bialystok 29.10.1946 and other sources).

[Page 440]


Re photo–copy of cablegram announcing the death of (Mr.) Levinson
Apart from the heading, in French, German, English and official stamps and seals, the typed message, partially in Hebrew with some German, reads as follows:
(in German)
“Levinson is dead”,
22 Sept. 1942
(in Hebrew at bottom of page)
The German reply to a letter sent by members of (his) family from abroad to W and Ch.(?) Levinson. (killed?) at hands of the blood–thirsty Germans and with him thousands of Tykocin residents and their families.

Translator's footnotes:

  1. A group of violent Nationalist Brigands created in the 18th century and probably used here as a comparative allusion rather than a statement of the movement's actual existence at this time. Return
  2. A free paraphrase of the Hebrew text taken from a description of the death of Jacob. Genesis XLVIII; v. 10 Return
  3. Cleansed of Jews. Return


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