New Jewish Cemetery Rehabilitation Project

Ця сторінка також доступна українською.

Introduction

The condition of the second or ‘new’ Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn is fair to good: wild-growing brush and small trees are cleared occasionally by the City, the light perimeter fence is mostly intact, and it suffers only occasional casual misuse; the site is stable. The few surviving headstones here are generally in good condition, and a few are even upright in their original locations. Although the new cemetery is not a first priority for the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage program, some project tasks have been outlined for future detailed planning.

The goals of the New Jewish Cemetery Rehabilitation Project are to:

  • clean and clear the cemetery of unwanted vegetation and refuse
  • raise the fallen headstones and provide them with secure support
  • conserve all the headstones and monuments
  • create an information point to outline the Jewish history of Rohatyn, and guide visitors arriving in town from the north to Jewish heritage sites in the city
  • create a place of respect and contemplation about the Jewish past of Rohatyn

Overall project cost estimate: $TBD. Total funds allocated to date: $0.
Overall project timeline: TBD. Project progress: 0% complete.

No money has been raised for this work, and no program funds will be allocated until some progress has been made on higher-priority projects (e.g. the Jewish Headstone Recovery Project and the Old Jewish Cemetery Rehabilitation Project).

Background

We have not yet located records to determine exactly when the new Jewish cemetery was opened in Rohatyn, but surveys of the old Jewish cemetery in 1921 suggest that site was reaching capacity, and the Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities of Poland indicates land was purchased for a second cemetery between 1910 and 1930 (despite the difficult economic situation in the region during and after World War I). So it is likely that the new cemetery was in normal service for not more than 20 years, ending during World War II. Nonetheless, some prominent Jews of Rohatyn were buried in the new cemetery, as evidenced by the surviving headstones, mostly of high-quality granite.

We do not know how or even if the cemetery was damaged during the war. One large fallen stone is currently located within the cemetery perimeter but at a distance from the other stones; based on its design, Rabbi Kolesnik has suggested that this stone was likely uprooted and moved from its original location at the east side of the cemetery. There are less than twenty matzevot at the site today, all of them large and heavy; whether any smaller stones were removed around the same time that the old Jewish cemetery was desecrated is not known; in headstone recovery work around town to date no ‘late’ stones have been found.

1944 Luftwaffe photo

German military aerial photograph from 27 June 1944; original image in the US National Archives Cartography Department; copy acquired by Dr. Alex Feller.

There is photographic evidence that new cemetery had seen a significant number of burials before and/or during the war: In 1944, after the liquidation of the Rohatyn ghetto and only four weeks before the Soviet liberation of the region, German Luftwaffe airplanes flew over the area capturing aerial images of towns, roads, and features of military significance. The images of Rohatyn show the new Jewish cemetery, isolated in agricultural fields, with what appear to be grave sites and headstones in rows covering a significant portion of the cemetery area; the cemetery is at the upper right in the image included here. Elsewhere in town, key buildings of the now-lost Jewish community were still intact at this time, though a number of houses appear destroyed near the center of town.

Roads in the area have changed slightly since 1944, and there has been significant growth and building in Rohatyn, even at this northern edge of the city. A semi-transparent map overlay created by Jay Osborn for the RSRG layers the 1944 aerial photograph on a satellite image of the modern landscape, showing the cemetery outline over time (and many other features of the town).

Since the breakup of the Soviet Union and the establishment of independent Ukraine, the new Jewish cemetery has been owned and managed by the City of Rohatyn, which continues to preserve it as an historical burial ground. There are no signs in town indicating the location or significance of the cemetery, but it appears on a commercial street map of the town.

A view of the new Jewish cemetery, with monuments

A view of the new Jewish cemetery, with monuments. Photo © 2015 Jay Osborn.

In the 1990s the cemetery became a new place of remembrance of the Jewish lives lost in WWII, and a memorial stele was erected by descendants of Rohatyn Jews near the center of the grounds. In 2013 the bones of unknown individuals (likely Jewish, and died during WWII) were buried in the new cemetery by representatives of the local Ukrainian Catholic church and the Jewish community of Ivano-Frankivsk; a monument was placed over that grave in 2015. Until recently, the new cemetery was a gathering point for rediscovered Jewish headstone fragments, but since 2015 those stones have since been moved to the old cemetery for a future memorial.

The surviving cemetery is 1.5 kilometers (about one mile) due north of the town square, accessible from town on primary roads. The cemetery site is almost square in shape, comprising about 1/3 hectare in area (around three-quarter of an acre). It is bounded on one side by a public road, on another by a driveway serving several houses; the entrance is located at the south side, adjacent to a woodworking shop.

In Hebrew, a cemetery is called bet kevarot (house or place of graves – Neh. 2:3), but more commonly bet hayyim (house or garden of life) or bet olam (house of eternity – Eccl. 12:5). According to Jewish law, a cemetery is a holy place more sacred even than a synagogue. Strict laws regarding burial and mourning govern Jewish practice. For Jews, the care of cemeteries is an essential religious and social responsibility. The Talmudic saying “Jewish gravestones are fairer than royal palaces” (Sanh. 96b; cf. Matt. 23:29) reflects the care that should be given to Jewish graves and cemeteries. In normal circumstances, the entire Jewish community shares the protection and repair of cemeteries willingly. [USCPAHA Ukraine report 2005]

Project Concept

The concept for rehabilitation of Rohatyn’s new Jewish cemetery addresses the key program objectives of memorial and education, and provides an introduction to the Jewish past of Rohatyn to visitors arriving in town from the north (e.g. Lviv). It provides a space in which to contemplate the lives of and interconnections between Rohatyn’s residents, and a quiet place to talk and relax. The concept design aims for gentle treatment of the grounds, working with and around the surviving fixed stones and monuments. The only planned addition is an information sign with a brief history of the cemetery and the Jewish community of Rohatyn, links to this web site for further information,  and directions to other sites of Jewish heritage in town.

The project includes these elements:

  • clearing and cleaning the grounds, stabilizing as needed
  • survey and documentation of all surviving fixed markers and memorials, with treatment as needed
  • raising and supporting matzevot which can be replaced in their original positions
  • signage and information design
  • ongoing maintenance

There is no project plan or funding at this time. The project elements will be phased to permit cycles of refinement as resources of funding and skills become available. All elements will proceed with the continuing involvement of the Rohatyn city office and the office of the Rabbi of Ivano-Frankivsk.

Clearing and Cleaning the Grounds

Clearing and cleaning the cemetery grounds is an occasional task currently carried out by the City of Rohatyn, for which we are grateful. Before commencing other work in the new cemetery, an additional clearing and cleaning effort will be made, in order to assess soil conditions, locate fixed and loose headstones and fragments, retard decay of the site; volunteers, both local and visiting, will be solicited to aid the work. Clearing and cleaning focuses on the removal of unwanted fast-growing and woody shrubs and trees, as well as the removal of accumulations of glass, metal, plastic, plus loose rocks and garbage. Several clumps of small trees, especially at the west and east sides of the cemetery, may be removed. The clearing process may reveal hidden headstones, grave covers, and the base stumps of broken headstones. In addition, clearing will permit the ground to be examined for soft areas, sinks, and large embedded rocks, and likely will reveal other grounds issues which are currently unknown.

Two views of wild brush and trash in the new cemetery

Two views of wild brush and trash in the new cemetery. Photos © 2015 Jay Osborn

Site Survey of Existing Fixed Markers and Memorials

Most of the surviving matzevot are in one location in the cemetery

Most of the surviving matzevot are in one location in the cemetery. Photo © 2015 Jay Osborn.

Concurrent with or immediately following the new Jewish cemetery clearing and cleaning, a site survey will be performed to geo-locate, index, and document each of the existing fixed markers and memorials, whether headstones from before World War II or monuments created and installed after the war. Information from this survey will be used in the planning for matzevot conservation and for the addition of signage.

Jeremy translating one of the new cemetery headstones

Jeremy translating one of the new cemetery headstones. Photo © 2012 Jay Osborn.

About a dozen fixed and fallen complete or partial headstones are known from past informal surveys, but some heavily-wooded parts of the cemetery have not been surveyed in the past four years. It is possible that the cemetery clearing will uncover additional fixed headstones or fragments, and perhaps some loose fragments.

At the same time, other fixed features of the cemetery (fences, gate, retaining walls, platforms, electrical power poles, etc.) will be geo-located and assessed for integrity and utility, and for their influence on the project plan.

Conservation of Existing Markers

An intact but uprooted headstone in the cemetery

An intact but uprooted headstone in the cemetery. Photo © 2015 Jay Osborn.

Matzevot which were uprooted but not removed during World War II should be installed in their original locations, where that is possible; at least seven headstones are candidates for this heavy work. In addition, all of the fixed and fallen stones will be cleaned and treated under guidance from stone conservation experts. We hope to learn from and lean on the experience of expert cemetery rehabilitation organizations in central Europe, such as the Stowarzyszenie Magurycz (Magurycz Association) of Poland, now with almost two decades of experience in rescue and rehabilitation of headstones in distressed cemeteries of all faiths in Poland and Ukraine, especially those where the original community was displaced or destroyed and no local members are able to care for the stones and grounds.

Signage and Information Design

Sample QR code, for the front page of this website

A sample QR code, for the front page of this website.

Physical signs for the new Jewish cemetery will integrate with other signs in Rohatyn indicating and explaining the historical Jewish community of the town, the surviving tangible and intangible Jewish heritage in Rohatyn and abroad, and will link to further information on this website. The overall information goals are described in the Information Points Physical Project and the Information Points Digital Project.

Near the new Jewish cemetery’s lower (south) entrance, a vertical metal sign measuring approximately 1.5m by 1.0m (about 60 inches by 40 inches) will describe the history of the site and its current purpose, and invite visitors to walk the grounds and consider the lives of those who are buried here. The sign will include images, and the same text will be given in three languages: Ukrainian, Hebrew, and English. A QR code will be included in each text, to access a language-specific page on the heritage website for more information about the Jews of Rohatyn, the cemetery, the heritage projects, and links to other reference information.

A few small signs will be installed adjacent to significant surviving fixed headstones to provide translations of the inscriptions on the stones.

Maintenance

Once the rehabilitation, documentation, and signage work has been completed on this project, ongoing maintenance will revert to the current tasks of clearing and cleaning, on a economical schedule determined by the City of Rohatyn. We will continue to support the City in that work.

Planning

No plans have been detailed for this project beyond the concept outline described here, no project costs have been estimated, and no funding has been raised or allocated to the project. Initial project planning will begin after other, higher-priority projects have commenced, although some work will be done early to coordinate the information signage at this site with other Jewish heritage sites in Rohatyn. An essential early step in the planning process will be to identify a reliable local project manager to arrange the work using regional resources and materials, and to coordinate with the City of Rohatyn on specific issues.

Current Status and Issues

Compared to some Jewish heritage sites and issues in Rohatyn, the new Jewish cemetery is relatively stable, and it receives sufficient attention from the City to prevent significant deterioration. The cemetery currently serves as a site of memorial, from pre-war matzevot and post-war monuments, but it is not integrated into the town’s consciousness and it is difficult for visitors to locate. This project’s goals are not urgent, but they are important to reconnect this memory site to the town and others with an interest in the once-diverse communities of Rohatyn.