View of Rohatyn from the old Jewish cemetery

Rohatyn Jewish Heritage

Ця сторінка також доступна українською.

Rohatyn Jewish Heritage is a volunteer-led program of heritage preservation and education, working to re-connect the history of Rohatyn’s now-lost Jewish community with the people and places of the modern town. With the cooperation of current Rohatyn residents and volunteers from around the world, today the program focuses primarily on recovery of Jewish headstone fragments discovered in town and their return to the old Jewish cemetery. Future plans include a cleanup and rehabilitation of the old cemetery, a modest memorial space for recovered headstone fragments, and the development of educational materials to support a renewed appreciation of the intertwined communities which once lived in Rohatyn. We thank all the people of Rohatyn and the world who have helped during the past years, and look forward to many more years of gradual development work.

This page provides an overview of the entire program, organized by topics which relate to our activities in Rohatyn. The sections below are listed in the same order as the menu above.


News

The news section of this website archives reports made from past visits to Rohatyn by our program members, and updates on the projects in town from volunteers and partners who are involved in our work. Past reports date from our first encounters with Jewish heritage issues in Rohatyn in the Spring of 2011, with new posts appearing several times per year. News reports are tagged by key content and can be browsed by topic or by date. The news page also includes a calendar of upcoming events relevant to our work in Rohatyn.


Projects

Plan view of Rohatyn's old Jewish cemetery, rehab & memorial concept

The several projects which make up the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage program are all focused on preservation of Jewish sites in Rohatyn, and on information and education to revive and strengthen the memory of the former Jewish community there. As with any volunteer project, the work proceeds as funds become available, and as volunteers have time to give to the projects. At present, active projects include both physical work in Rohatyn (Jewish headstone recovery) and ‘virtual’ work on the website and its educational resources. Future projects such as cemetery rehabilitation are currently in the planning and costing phases; progress even on the planning is paced by available resources. And there are occasional unexpected projects, usually smaller and with finite requirements.

Jewish Headstone Recovery – Our original heritage project, and likely to continue as long as there is anyone to support it. We have recovered a few hundred headstone fragments to date, and have moved them to the old Jewish cemetery for conservation, but there should be thousands more somewhere under the streets and buildings of Rohatyn.

Old Jewish Cemetery Rehabilitation – A resting place for Jews of Rohatyn for several hundred years, then stripped of its matzevot during WWII, the first Jewish cemetery is now an almost-bare grass field with wild brush and trees, respected by Rohatyn citizens but devoid of meaning and memory. We hope to rehabilitate the cemetery by taming the vegetation, introducing low-maintenance plants and paths, and creating a memorial space for the return of lost headstones and fragments.

New Jewish Cemetery Rehabilitation – The second Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn began service after WWI, so had only begun when WWII gripped the region. Its original burials appear to be few, but of several prominent members of the community. The City of Rohatyn has already been active in cutting back wild brush and grasses; rehabilitation work will include moving some displaced headstones, lifting and resetting others where possible, and establishing a long-term maintenance program.

Mass Grave Memorials – The monuments erected by descendants in 1998, and the earlier Soviet monuments, are in good condition and are monitored by the City and by Rohatyn citizens. Preservation plans for these two locations include routine maintenance of the sites, annual cleanup and plantings, and signage to direct visitors to these locations outside the city center.

Information Points Physical – As we discovered on our first visit to Rohatyn, maps depicting the location of Jewish heritage sites in town are rare, and many residents of the town do not know where they are located. This project aims to provide guidance to locals and visitors to find the key heritage sites, and once at the sites to learn about their history and significance.

Information Points Digital – Not everyone can visit Rohatyn in person, and the history of people and places in town is too large for signs and other physical information points. This website is a key online resource to supplement the physical sites, documenting the heritage projects as well as the history of the Jewish community in Rohatyn and its descendants around the world. It should also serve as a gathering point for program supporters and anyone with an interest in the town. But we are also employing social media to spread the word, and welcome any other remote engagement in our very local work.

Educational Resources – The bridge from the past Rohatyn Jewish community to the current city has been sustained by a Rohatyn teacher and historian. We want to build on his efforts, by providing a collection of reference materials and other resources which can be used by local schools to give Rohatyn students a broader picture of the local history than may be available in their textbooks and study aids. And we hope that these same materials may be useful to schools outside of Rohatyn, as example histories of the region, and of intercultural relations in Central Europe, and of heritage as a shared responsibility. We are also developing these materials with an eye to visitors to Rohatyn, recognizing that history tourism can be beneficial to the resident community and to heritage preservation.

Synagogues Documentation – Although we do not currently have any active projects working on former Rohatyn synagogue buildings, we are using this page and others to document the history and current condition of the buildings.

Other Projects – Not all of our projects are planned. Like the Jewish headstone recovery project which was thrust upon us by circumstances during an early visit to Rohatyn, some other unexpected issues have become projects as well. In addition to news reports about these events and their resolution, this topic will also cover potential projects which are outside of the current scope of the program, as too large and difficult for us to manage now.


Education

Over time the Educational Resources project will create and publish materials which can be used by teachers and students at schools in Rohatyn and elsewhere; this section of the website will gather those materials and relate them to the past Jewish community of Rohatyn, to the current town residents, and to the world. We have already had the pleasure of meeting and working with several teachers in Rohatyn, and we have had several mutually-beneficial encounters with the town librarians, in addition to our ongoing joint project work with the Rohatyn historian and educator Mikhailo Vorobets. The educational aspect of the program is important, to illuminate the meaning of the places and objects we are working with, now and for the future, in Rohatyn and beyond. We want to help the current community of Rohatyn understand its missing Jewish neighbors, to help the displaced Jewish descendants of Rohatyn understand the people of their former town, and to help visitors, Jewish and other, understand the long and interlaced history of Jews, Ukrainians, Poles, and others in Rohatyn.

School Projects – While we have had a few encounters with the Rohatyn schools already, we want this section to highlight events, projects, and media generated by the schools and students themselves to integrate the Jewish history of Rohatyn with the modern town. Where we can suggest curriculum and project ideas, we’ll be happy to make our resources available, but we also want to be open to ideas from today’s Rohatyners of all ages.

Genealogy – Our engagement with Rohatyn’s Jewish heritage began with historical family links to the town, and the family history connection is still the most important to many of us. The same research tools and resources which strengthened the ties between Jewish descendants and Rohatyn are also useful for Ukrainian and Polish descendants, for current residents of Rohatyn, and for anyone with a family connection to the Rohatyn district and region. In this section of the site we present a variety of useful local and global resources for doing family history research, together with some useful documents and images we’ve found in Ukrainian, Polish, and other archives.

Geography – What connects many of us with a common interest in Rohatyn is the place itself, and the local and regional geography provides context for linked histories across time. People of Rohatyn have endured shifting borders and a succession of rulers over the past several hundred years, and within the town there have been both gradual and sudden changes in buildings and demographics. As an aid to educational programs in and about Rohatyn, in this section we present a variety of geographical resources and some of our own research into the evolving landscape of the town and region.

Additional Resources – This section links to separate pages with a variety of information to expand understanding of the diverse communities which once populated Rohatyn, and to help interpret the physical heritage which survives in town. From alphabets to traditions to facets of the modern town, this section is meant to aid learning about and from the tangible heritage in Rohatyn.


History

Jews were resident and active in Rohatyn for about 500 years; only in the last 70 years, since the cataclysm of World War II, has there been no resident Rohatyn Jewish community. But the descendants of Jews who emigrated from Austrian and Polish pre-War Rohatyn, and the descendants of the few resident survivors of the War, have continued to thrive in Europe, the Americas, Australia, and Israel. Today it is difficult to see evidence of the long history of Rohatyn’s Jewish community anywhere in town, but the surviving sites and physical heritage, together with records and family stories, can help to reanimate this significant part of life in Rohatyn.

Jewish Community of Rohatyn – From 1463 or earlier, until 1939, Jews were an integral and essential part of the daily life of Rohatyn. Recorded as cattle traders, flour merchants and bakers, sellers of many kinds of building materials, doctors, midwives, lawyers, saloon keepers, and for hundreds of years residents, neighbors, and town leaders, the Jews of Rohatyn made up a third of all citizens for much of the town’s history. They were school chums with Ukrainian and Polish students at the gymnasiums in town, athletes in the sports teams, business connections to the largest cities of Central Europe, and also simply the families next door.

The Shoah in Rohatyn – The devastation of the Jewish community of Rohatyn in World War II is both typical of the wartime history in the region and specific to the people and places of the town. Academic historians as well as local witnesses from all resident ethnic groups have recorded how the events and experiences of the War, and post-War Soviet priorities, resulted in the broken heritage situation in Rohatyn today. Any discussion of the Holocaust is difficult, but a study of heritage needs facts and timelines as a basis for revival and commemoration.

Jewish Rohatyners Today – Descendants of the Rohatyn Jewish community have spread all over the globe and have engaged with their new lands and neighbors to create new communities, new work, and new lives. At the same time, as technology has enabled stronger connections across distance and cultures, the children and grandchildren of Rohatyn Jews have renewed their interest in the town that their ancestors called home. And many have stories to share which will interest today’s Rohatyners, about their own town and the people who once lived there.


Support

This program has always been a grassroots effort, even before we became involved. Yet the effort has been supported since our first involvement by a large number of individuals: specialists giving their time and advice, interested and concerned people giving money and encouragement, and institutions giving infrastructure support and continuity. The program remains small, volunteer-led, and informal, and perhaps over-dependent on a few local people for momentum and oversight. As the program evolves from reactive to active work, we want to acknowledge the people who have been our supporters and inspiration, and identify ways that others can join our effort to make a difference in Rohatyn.

How to Help – Of course all heritage work needs money and we are not ashamed to ask for financial help in the work; the overall program and individual projects progress will scale to the available resources from our own pockets and those of others. But other resources are equally important: we need help with translations, to connect the descendants of Rohatyners living in town and abroad today; we need books and other literature as sources for educational projects in town, in the region, and afar; we need images and stories of Rohatyn families and individuals from all the past communities to connect to the surviving physical heritage; and we need ideas and suggestions from anyone with an interest in what we’re trying to do.

Advisers and Volunteers – We have been astonished by the intellect and heart that others have brought freely to this program, directly and indirectly, in Rohatyn and from elsewhere in Ukraine and beyond. This section tries to acknowledge and thank those who have made significant contributions in the genesis of the program, and who have helped to shape the work we are now doing.

Partners and Donors – Heritage work always requires cooperation and collaboration with local administrations and institutions, and our program is no different; we are pleased to acknowledge the civic and religious offices which have worked in parallel with our individual efforts. But we also want to thank the people and organizations who have contributed money and other resources to enable the ongoing work: friends, family, colleagues, and a surprising number of people with no direct ties to Rohatyn but who have recognized the value of this work for the town and the people connected to it.


More Information

This section is intended to provide both general and specific information which doesn’t fit well in the other sections of the site: who we are, how to find us, an explanation of some of the terms mentioned in the site, and a sampling of the reference materials (both print and digital) which we have used to develop the program and our thinking.

About the Program – A short summary of the what, who, and why of Rohatyn Jewish Heritage. It’s not easy to explain in words why this program is important to us, but visit Rohatyn and you’ll see.

Contacts – How to reach us, for general questions or comments or suggestions, for for specific project details.

Glossary of Terms – A small glossary of the words and phrases which appear in historical texts and oral traditions about the Rohatyn Jewish community and their relations with the rest of the town. In the multi-cultural, multi-lingual historical Rohatyn, a lexicon of each of the languages is valuable; this section presents only a small list of key terms relevant to the heritage work, but may be an entry and stimulus for further study.

References and Links – A bibliography of some of the print and internet references we have used as the program has developed, both for direct application and to help shape our thinking. Of course the literature on heritage preservation is huge, so we have also tried to link to other, larger lists. But we have also listed other kinds of references, from history to genealogy to dialog, and of course to today’s Rohatyn.