The picture attached shows me deep in the forest in a small town called Tykocin. The story of this town and the forest is so remarkable, it’s incredibly hard to believe that it’s even real. One day, all the Jews of the town (about 1,500) were told to meet at the town square at 6am. All the shoemakers, tailors, cooks, butchers, newborn babies, and crying toddlers came wearing layers of clothes to prepare for what they believed to be a train ride to a labor camp, unsure of when they would arrive back home. Men were told to get in height order and women, children, and the elderly were shoved into vans. They marched the men into the woods where we were standing and drove the van in. The Jews of Tykocin saw three mass graves dug into the earth. They were ALL murdered by bullet, falling into the mass pits that quickly piled up with dead children, men, and mothers.
As I’m sitting on this stump next to one of the three mass graves I write, “The ground is uneven with the pile of bodies underneath. One small mound inside the gated off mass grave is the size of a newborn baby. Peppi (our guide) said he/she was thrown into the air and shot like a target while falling into the pit dig by his/her neighbors. How am I supposed to feel right now? The story of this place is so profound that it seems not able to be real. They were shot and fell into there graves with ease and by the enjoyment of the soldiers just to be dug up and burned to avoid being used as evidence. NO BODIES LEFT. No evidence.
“But trees are growing from the souls of the forgotten, reaching up to the sun, making oxygen, telling us to remember them. The trees are watching. The blood has washed away but they still stand, right as they did when a child grabbed onto it to as a last resort to save their life, trying to avoid the bullet or the body falling onto them. It wasn’t enough. Not one Jewish soul who entered the woods ever left.”
– Abby Lefton