Jewish cemetery , Tykocin
Narodowy Instytut Dziedzictwa pl

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The first Jews settled in the town in 1522. Their arrival resulted from the privilege issued by the Lithuanian Chancellor Olbracht Gasztołd, the hereditary owner of the local lands. The community that was established is considered as the oldest in Podlasie region which at the time was still part of the Grand Duchy of Lithuania. Ten families of Jewish faith which came from Grodno inhabited a place called Kaczorowo, located to the west of the town square, on the other side of the bridge over the Motława River.

The first Jewish settlers in Tykocin were granted the privilege to build stalls and conduct trade. Gasztołd gave them an area located on an island surrounded by a pond (for defensive purposes), where they could erect a synagogue, and – on a nearby hill – establish a cemetery. According to successive privileges from 1536, members of the Tykocin community were taken out of the jurisdiction of municipal courts, remaining under the sole supervision and care of the town's owner.

In 1542, ownership of the town passed to the crown, and this commenced the period of prosperity and the development of the community. In 1576, its privileges were confirmed by King Stefan Batory, who additionally allowed free trade by Tykocin Jews in all royal towns and villages, as well as those belonging to the clergy and nobility. Soon after, the Tykocin community became the largest in the Crown, and the visible symbol of its importance is the still standing magnificent brick synagogue, erected in 1642 in the place of an older, wooden house of prayer. The dynasty of Tykocin rabbis also gained considerable respect and renown. It included Rivkah Tiktiner also known as Rebecca bat Meir Tiktiner.

The Tykocin Jews maintained their position, having whole sectors of the economy under their control, such as the production and sale of beer and alcoholic beverages, butchering, meat trade, tanning and leasing of nearby land estates and inns, also after the town became the property of Czarniecki and Branicki families. In the second half of the 18th century, Jews constituted more than half of the inhabitants of Tykocin, and the community was becoming ever more important. But the third partition of the Commonwealth and the loss of the former importance of the town due to the rapidly growing neighbouring Białystok put an end to it.

After the episode of the Prussian rule (1795–1807), Tykocin was incorporated into Russia, which resulted in limiting the autonomy of the religious community. In the 19th and early 20th century, the Jews of Tykocin were mainly engaged in wood trade and the production of tallits. At the same time, mass economic emigration of the Jewish population was taking place - mainly to North America - which was one of the causes of the gradual decline of the town. Before the outbreak of World War II, about 2,000 Jews lived in Tykocin, constituting 44% of the total population.

In August 1941, Sonderkommando SS Bezirk Białystok units, murdered around 1,400 Tykocin Jews in a mass execution near the village of Łopuchowo (up to 2,500 according to some accounts), the remaining 150 were deported to the ghetto in Bialystok. It is estimated that only a dozen or so members of the pre-war community survived the Holocaust. They emigrated to Palestine shortly after the war.

The Cemetery in Tykocin, which has existed since 1522, is considered one of the oldest Jewish necropolises in the territory of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. It was established under the privilege granted by Olbracht Gasztołd to the first Tykocin Jews. In this document, Chancellor Gasztołd decided, inter alia: “Place also for laying down, where to dead are to be buried, we gave them these gardens, entering the forest on the first mountain next to the river.” Until 1750, Jews from nearby Białystok were also buried there. In the interwar period, the cemetery was surrounded by a concrete wall founded by American Jews descending from Tykocin. During World War II, Germans desecrated and destroyed the necropolis, removing most of the 2000 monuments and using them mainly as a building material. Part of the wall was also demolished. The devastation process continued after the war.

The Jewish cemetery in Tykocin currently occupies 2.2 hectares, located at 27 Maja Street, a few hundred meters from the synagogue, along the road to Kiermusy and Pentowo. In the area of the cemetery there are still some 100 matzevot which survived the destruction of war and post-war neglects. They are made mostly of granite boulders. The original layout has been largely erased, although on part of the area the nest arrangement and the residual row alignments have been preserved. The oldest preserved monument dates back to the middle of the 18th century (1754).

Owner of copyrights to the description: POLIN Museum of the History of Polish Jews

General information

  • Type: Jewish cemetery
  • Chronology: 1522 r.
  • Form of protection: register of monuments
  • Address: 27 Maja , Tykocin
  • Location: Voivodeship podlaskie, district białostocki, commune Tykocin - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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