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Wild strawberries

“Maps in Jewish museums from Riga to Odessa confirm that almost every village and town in the entire sweep of the Eastern territories has a killing site nearby. Two thousand Jews, for example, lived in and around the small town of Tykocin, northwest of Warsaw on the road to Bialystok in eastern Poland, worshiping in a square, fortified synagogue with a turreted tower and a red mansard roof, built in 1642, more than a century after Jewish settlement began in the region. Lush farm country surrounds Tykocin: wheat fields, prosperous villages, cattle in the fields, black-and-white storks brooding wide, flat nests on the chimneys of lucky houses. Each village maintains a forest, a dense oval stand of perhaps forty acres of red-barked pines harvested for firewood and house and barn construction. Inside the forests, even in the heat of summer, the air is cool and heady with pine; wild strawberries, small and sweet, strew the forest floor. Police Battalions 309 and 316, based in Bialystok, invaded Tykocin on 5 August 1941. They drove Jewish men, women and children screaming from their homes, killed laggards in the streets, loaded the living onto trucks and jarred them down a potholed, winding dirt road past the storks and the cattle to the Lopuchowo village forest two miles southwest. In the center of the Lopuchowo forest, men dug pits, piling up the sandy yellow soil, and then Police Battalions 309 and 316, out for the morning on excursion from Bialystok, murdered the Jews of Tykocin, man, woman and child. For months the forest buzzed and stank of death.” – Richard Rhodes, Masters of Death

Published inRichard RhodesThe Second World War

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