We started off the day by davening in a revived Shul in the Tikocyn Shtetl. Since it is Rosh Chodesh, we sang Hallel together as a Midrasha and at the conclusion of davening all danced arm in arm in a circle singing “טוב להודות לה’”-it is good to give thanks to Hashem. Afterwards, we took a tour of the old town and saw houses that belonged to a once thriving community. From there we were taken to the Lupochowa forest, the place were every single Jew in Tikocyn was brutally shot and buried, dead or alive, in three mass graves in a forest. Trees now grow over these covered bodies. There are many Jewish Stars made out of trees all over this part of the forest, Israeli flags are hung up— signs of eternal Jewish life on a gravesite of a community that did not have this choice. There Ada, one of the heads of this trip, read a eulogy to her great grandfather, who was a victim of this evil. She spoke about the fact that when we entered the forest it was silent and green. Only three days in 1941 had gun shots, screams, and blood that disturbed this peace. After that, it was right back to how it was before, without even a trace of the horror. Around 1 million Jews were also killed this way in different forests. One of the testimonies we read described how someone witnessed two best friends fall into the pit in an embrace. We walked out of the forest arm in arm wearing Israeli flags listening to a song from a survivor describe the importance of viewing the glass half full at all times. Songs like these remind us to walk together with our heads held high at all times. The stories of martyrdom and/or heroism give us the strength and courage to always keep fighting and to always keep living.
Afterwords, we went to Jedbaweabne, one of the towns wiped out during operation Barbarossa. There we heard stories of Polish hooligans who tortured the Jews in their town in unspeakable ways. They brought them all into a barn and lit it on fire. Only seven members of the community survived due to one Polish women who hid them in her home. The weight of this story is more than just the destruction of a whole town, it is a destruction of a whole town done by their neighbors living in the town. One day they were doing business together and the next burning them at the stake. The Jews of Jedbaweabne recognized their angels of death.
Next, we went to Treblinka, one of the three death camps under operation Reinhard. At Treblinka the 30 Germans and 90 Ukrainians (with the help of 800 Jewish prisoners) were able to kill 12,000 people a day with an engine and carbon monoxide gas. On the gates of the gas chamber the Nazis had the audacity to mock the Jewish nation by writing “זה השער לה’ צדיקים יבאו בו.” Walking through the place where the camp used to be and looking at the stones that the Polish put up as a memorial, it was difficult to imagine that a place with such a beautiful sunset was once a place dedicated to slaughter. By the time we walked out of the camp through the forest it was already dark outside and the path was barely visible. The tune of “אני מאמין” that was composed in a cattle car was playing in the background. I am usually afraid of walking outside in the dark, in that moment I knew I had nothing to be afraid of. עם ישראל חי