For many years I heard and learned about holocaust
but it wasn’t until today that I finally felt its impact. Today we traveled from Warsaw to Lublin and stopped at Tykocin, Lupuchowo, and Treblinka. But, I will talk about what we did in reverse order.
Treblinka, one of the three Riehnhart extermination camps, was a powerful and eye opening experience. The Nazis went through great lengths to coverup and hide the atrocities that they committed – Treblinka was one of these places that they covered up.
As we walked on to the camp’s grounds there was nothing left but a memorial. This was a place where almost 900,000 Jews met their death. For us, this number was extremely difficult to grapple with and understand. This was a place where entire towns worth of Jews were exterminated. Today the memorial that stands has thousands of stones with the names of towns whose Jews were murdered in the gas chambers.
However despite the atrocities committed within the death camp of Treblinka, it was the little shtetel of Tykocin that brought me to tears. Tykocin is a little shtetel in the Polish countryside that was once home to 1400 Jews but on August 24, 1941 that all changed when German soldiers rounded up all the Jews and took them to their death. That day was the last day the Jews inhabited their little shetel, the last day prayers and songs were heard from the synagogue, the last day little boys learned in the school, the last day the bustle of town was heard, and most importantly the last day of these 1400 Jews lives.
The Jews of Tykocin were brought to the forest of Lupuchowo where there were three large pits dug to shoot the Jews into. This so called Bullet Holocaust claimed the lives the 1400 Jews of Tykocin and 1.5 million other Jews throughout the course of the war.
As we drove from the village of Tykocin to the forest we sat in complete silence in an attempt to understand the magnitude of the events that unfolded. Walking through the forest in complete silence once again we were reminded that before the murders that took place this was “happy place” for the community members of Tykocin. Finally, we reached a clearing where three areas (the mass graves of the Jews of Tykocin) were fenced off and covered with more candles, Israeli flags, Stars of David, and Jewish pride than I had ever seen. I personally was moved.
We then proceeded to huddle around one of pits and conduct a ceremony to honor those who perished through stories, poems, songs, and prayer. I believe that it was at this point that we finally understood the magnitude of the events that unfolded here. We each lit a candle with the names of a family who was murdered on that August day and took a moment to remember them and imagine the people they were and the lives they lived.
I could continue talking for paragraphs and paragraphs about the experiences and emotions that I felt today. Overall it was a moving experience that will stick with me for years to come and excited to learn more as the days go on.
-Hannah Vigran, Indian Hill High School