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Introducing Tykocin

Like so many of the region's sleepy towns, Tykocin's (ti-ko-cheen) importance lies in its past. It started life as a stronghold of the Mazovian dukes, but its real growth didn't begin until the 15th century and was further accelerated after the town became the property of King Zygmunt II August in 1543.

It was during this period that Jews started to settle in Tykocin, and their community grew rapidly to define the town's character for the next four centuries. They also built the town's greatest monument, a 17th-century synagogue that miraculously survived WWII.

The slaughter of the town's Jewish residents in the summer of 1941 is a tragic story and one that gives a visit here special poignancy. On 25 August, shortly after Nazi Germany declared war on the Soviet Union, the Germans called the town's nearly 2000 Jewish residents to the Rynek, from where they were marched (or trucked in the case of women and children) to the Ɓopuchowo Forest, about 8km west of Tykocin, and shot. They were buried in mass graves.

Though today the village appears relatively prosperous, and was even getting a facelift during our visit in 2011, it's fair to say that Tykocin has never recovered from the massacre. In 1950, owing to the loss of half of its population, it was deprived of its town charter, to become an ordinary village. It recovered its charter in 1994, but otherwise not much has changed.