Synagogues Documentation Project

Ця сторінка також доступна українською.

Introduction

Today there are no consecrated synagogues in Rohatyn. The 1846 cadastral map of Rohatyn shows at least six buildings with religious function connected to the Jewish community (circled on the image here), but we don’t know exactly how many of those were destroyed when all of Rohatyn was heavily damaged in World War I, or how many others may have been built in the 90+ years between the 1846 cadastral survey and the onset of World War II.

Rohatyn 1846 cadastral field sketch, composite (detail)

Rohatyn 1846 cadastral field sketch, composite (detail); original map from the Central State Historical Archives of Ukraine in Lviv (TsDIAL); image courtesy of Gesher Galicia.

At least two Jewish religious buildings are confirmed to have survived WWII, a third is likely, and there are others which Rohatyn residents have identified to us as historically Jewish but for which we do not yet have any documentation. The known buildings are described here, and we continue to inquire about others while in town and while pursuing our other research. Documentation about the now-lost Jewish religious buildings in town is also scarce; in the future we will publish or link here any useful information we can confirm.

The Jewish cemeteries in Rohatyn will forever retain their sacred purpose as burial grounds, and we feel compelled to care for them (and for the headstones stolen from them during WWII) as essential heritage of the Jewish community; the same is true for the WWII mass grave sites in town, which are also respected Jewish burial grounds even if the circumstances of burial were horrible. It is a significant financial and management burden to care for these burial sites; although we agree with others that the built religious heritage can and should have value for future generations, we are unable to take on former Jewish religious buildings in this program. For now we intend to document the buildings as best we can, through our photographs and interviews with Rohatyn residents and referring to the data and documents of other heritage researchers in Ukraine and abroad.

The Beit Midrash (vul. Valova)

The most significant former Jewish structure which survives in Rohatyn is a large but damaged building in the former synagogue complex on vul. Valova northeast of the town square. We believe this building was a beit midrash (religious study hall) or possibly a synagogue before WWII; it has been variously documented as serving one purpose or the other, and may have served both. After the war, for some years it was local student housing, and then a bakery, but today the condition of the building does not support any regular use; see our report from October 2011.

The beit midrash building exterior

The beit midrash building exterior, in 1994 (photo © the Center for Jewish Art) and 2011 (photo © Jay Osborn).

The remains of interior wall murals in the largest room of the building were photographed in 1994 by  Укрзахідпроектреставрація (Ukrzakhidproektrestavratsia, the West Ukrainian Institute for Conservation in Lviv) for the Center for Jewish Art at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. As part of its Catalogue of Wall Paintings in Central and East European Synagogues, the Center has documented more than a dozen synagogues in Ukraine with images of their murals. Rohatyn’s beit midrash is included with 1 exterior and 9 interior photographs. A selection of those photos is included here:

Wall murals in the Rohatyn beit midrash, in 1994

Wall murals in the Rohatyn beit midrash, in 1994. Photos © the Center for Jewish Art. Click to enlarge.

The photographs, even though black & white, give a strong clue to the themes and style of the mural paintings. Painted architectural elements of columns and temples alternate with depictions of draperies, tassels, and urns; the foreground features are set against a backdrop of Mediterranean or Middle Eastern vegetation (palms), probably representing the Holy Land, perhaps Jerusalem. It appears that the murals covered all four walls, including between, above, and below the arched windows on the exterior walls. The ceiling in this room may also have been painted at one time; it’s not possible to tell from the 1994 photos. Other rooms in the building were not documented at the time.

Comparing the images from 1994 by the Center for Jewish Art with our own photos from 2011, it is clear that after 1994 the interior walls were whitewashed though the remnants of the original murals are probably still under the white paint; we were told about the murals at the time of our visit, and some shadowy features may be seen on the walls:

interior of the Rohatyn beit midrash building in 2011

The interior of the Rohatyn beit midrash building in 2011. Photos © Jay Osborn.

The building is privately owned but unused now, and in need of significant repair; in 2011 we were asked if we had an interest in purchasing the building and developing it for a memorial, a community center, a museum, or another purpose, but we were unable to respond with a practical and feasible plan. We will continue to monitor the building’s condition and interest in its development in Rohatyn, and we remain open to practical suggestions and cooperative efforts.

The Western Synagogue and Mikveh (vul. Kotsiubynskoho)

The former synagogue west of the market square; this building and probably also its associated mikveh (ritual bath) have been incorporated into the Rohatyn internat (boarding school), where today they serve as a theater and laundry room, respectively; a few photos were published in our report from June 2011.

The former western synagogue complex serves the Rohatyn internat and is cared for by that institution; we are pleased to have a mutually-respectful association with the school. At some point we may propose to place a plaque on a street-facing exterior wall which commemorates the building’s prior use as a synagogue (as was done for the nearby former Judenrat building at the same school), but we do not anticipate any further work there.

Inside the former western synagogue and mikveh

Inside the former western synagogue (left and center) and mikveh (right) with the director of the Rohatyn internat. Photos © 2011 Jay Osborn.

Another Building on vul. Valova

The house at 2 vul. Valova

The house at 2 vul. Valova. Photo © 2011 Alex Feller.

The Center for Urban History of East Central Europe in Lviv has completed a research and documentation project surveying surviving synagogues in the Ukrainian half of former Galicia. Included in the survey database are two synagogues in Rohatyn: the internat theater on vul. Kotsiubynskoho described above, and another building located at 2 vul. Valova, a short distance from the beit midrash described above, in the predominantly Jewish area to the northeast of the Rohatyn city center. This latter building is well documented with photographs on the Center’s project website.

We are not yet able to confirm the past use of this building as a synagogue, and will follow up with the Center to learn about their information sources and their own visit to Rohatyn. In our own visits to the city, we have also photographed 2 vul. Valova but it is a different building than is shown on the Center’s database page. When we have more information, we will post that here.

Current Status and Issues

As noted above, we are currently unable to take on any surviving buildings as part of our Jewish heritage preservation work in Rohatyn; we are giving priority for our time and money to Jewish headstone recovery and to the rehabilitation and maintenance of the cemeteries and mass graves. As we make progress on those projects, however, we may consider ideas for the complicated and expensive tasks of conserving and converting the former Jewish religious buildings in Rohatyn which currently have no other purpose and reason for preservation.