Circumstances surrounding the massacre
The town of Tykocin was conquered by Nazi Germany during the Soviet and German invasion of Poland pursuant to their secret agreement known as the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact. At the end of September 1939, the area was transferred by the Nazis to the Soviet Union in accordance with the German–Soviet Boundary Treaty. In their attack, the Red Army overrun 52.1% of territory of interwar Poland with over 13,700,000 inhabitants. The Soviet occupation zone included also 336,000 new refugees who escaped from Polish lands invaded by Germany, most of them Polish Jews numbering at around 198,000. Spreading terror throughout the region, the Soviet secret police (NKVD) accompanying the Red Army massacred Polish prisoners of war, and in less than two years, deported up to 1.5 million ethnic Poles to Siberia. Twenty-one months after the Soviet invasion of Poland, during the German Operation Barbarossa in June 1941, the town was overrun again, this time by Wehrmacht followed closely behind by Einsatzgruppen. The Germans installed Jan Fibich, a local ethnic German, as mayor. Fibich, aided by Edmund Wiśniewski, prepared a list of Jews collaborating with the Soviet NKVD, which included almost all of Jewish youth.
Upon their arrival, the Nazi Germans encouraged the local Poles from Tykocin and the surrounding villages to loot Jewish property, which they later ordered to be given back to their proper owners, for the Germans' own anticipated benefit. On the morning of August 25, 1941 – according to a testimony of Abraham Kapice – as explained also by the Jewish and Polish memorials on the outskirts of town, the Germans ordered all Tykocin Jews to gather at the market square in order to be "resettled" to a ghetto in Czerwony Bór. About 1,400–1,700 people were soon taken from the square to a killing site in the nearby Łopuchowo forest. The men were marched on foot, and the women with children were trucked in. Some local Jews managed to escape into hiding, though very few survived. The prisoners, including women, children, and the elderly, were executed in waves into the execution pits, by an SS Einsatzkommando firing squad under the command of SS-Obersturmführer Hermann Schaper. Shaper's mass executions of Polish Jews spread across many villages and towns of the Białystok region around the same time, including Radziłów, Jedwabne, Łomża, Rutki, Wizna, Piątnica, and Zambrów. He was brought to justice several decades later by the German authorities, but managed to deceive the interrogators during his original trial in Ludwigsburg.
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