Houses in Tykocin

The village of Tykocin is an example of a Jewish shtetel, according to the tour guide on a trip which I took to Poland in October 1998. The German name for the Shtetel Jews was Dorfjuden, or village Jews in English. A few of these villages had a population that was 100% Jewish, but in most of them, the Jews lived side by side with the Polish Catholics. The town of Tykocin was divided down the middle into the Jewish district on the west side and the Christian district on the east side.

Courtyard entrance to house with barn in background

The photograph above was taken on the main street in Tykocin. According to my tour guide, the entrance to the house from a courtyard like this is typical of Jewish homes in a shtetel. Note the old barn behind the house.

The shtetel way of life is now completely gone in Poland; there are no more shtetel Jews. Martin Gilbert gives a detailed description in his book "The Holocaust" of how the Nazis rounded up the Jews in the shtetels and either shot them or sent them to the extermination camps where they were gassed. Of the 6 million Jews who died in the Holocaust, approximately half were from Poland.

Old house in village of Tykocin

The weathered gray wooden house shown directly above appears to have shutters on the two doors which are closed and barred. On the top of the house is a window which looks like an opening into a hayloft. To prove that these buildings are not barns, I took a picture of a barn in the back yard of the house in the first photo above. When these houses were last inhabited by shtetel Jews, most of them probably did not have indoor plumbing.

According to historian Martin Gilbert, there were whole villages in Poland, as late as 1945, that did not have running water, indoor toilets or a sewer system. There was no industry in Tykocin then and, according to my tour guide, the inhabitants were engaged in farming, including the Jews.