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A few years ago, a young man raised in Rohatyn was working at a building site in town when he noticed strange symbols carved into some of the stones which had been used in the walls of an old service building he was helping to dismantle. He contacted his high school teacher and local historian Mykhailo Vorobets for advice about the symbols; perhaps it was Turkish writing, the young man thought, probably because he had learned something about the Ottoman presence in the region in the 16th century and again in World War I. In fact, as Mr. Vorobets quickly recognized, the stones were fragments of matzevot, Jewish headstones, taken from one of the Jewish cemeteries in Rohatyn under Nazi occupation during World War II. The young man had not recognized the carved characters as Hebrew, or the significance of the stones; when told, he immediately offered the stones for return to Rohatyn’s old Jewish cemetery, and then helped to transport them there.
The young man is not unique. Many residents of Rohatyn and the area are unaware of the significant participation of Jews in Rohatyn’s pre-war civic life, and of Jewish culture in general. Likewise, many Jewish descendants of Rohatyn families are unaware of the significant contributions of local Ukrainians to multicultural pre-war Rohatyn, or about their lives in town under Soviet rule or in contemporary independent Ukraine. Thus is it a key goal of Rohatyn Jewish Heritage to find or assemble and then share information about the past and the present of Rohatyn which may help to join these separate communities again as they were in the past. So the project we call Museums and Education is primarily about information, including these components:
- research and development of reference materials on this website, including the Jewish history of multicultural Rohatyn, regional Jewish culture, and details about the heritage sites in the town and region
- contributions to and joint development of exhibitions for Rohatyn’s local history museum and other museums
- presentation in no-cost formats of relevant texts, interviews, film and other media for study and adaptation
- research, analysis, and presentation of historical quantitative and graphical data, including population censuses, maps, and photographs
- lectures at schools and in other education forums about Rohatyn’s Jewish past, present, and future
- promotion of Jewish heritage and regional concerns on social media
- heritage tours of Rohatyn’s Jewish sites and history for educators, tour guides, and volunteers
- development and presentation of best practices and lessons learned about heritage preservation in western Ukraine
This project addresses a core element of the overall Rohatyn Jewish Heritage program, but involves no material heritage sites directly and requires no significant physical labor to implement. This project is being conducted entirely through volunteer efforts (ours and others) in Rohatyn or abroad, and is supported by donations from around the world.
This website is the primary collecting point for information we gather or synthesize about Jewish life in Rohatyn, and we draw on this reserve to develop the other information forms described below. Here one can find information about the history of the Jewish community, about the memories of Jews and Ukrainians who lived in the town before and during World War II, about regional Jewish culture in general, and about the local Jewish material heritage which survived the war. We also publish occasional news articles about the projects our NGO conducts to preserve the surviving Jewish heritage. We are continually adding thematic and topical pages to broaden and deepen this web resource.
Rohatyn and its district are very fortunate to have a new local history museum which tells the story of the region through curated texts, images, and artifacts from the earliest settlers to the mid-20th century. The museum, named “Opillya” for the unique, water-carved and forest-covered chalk hills which surround Rohatyn, is an important education resource for local residents, students, and visitors alike, and an excellent starting point for learning about the history of the land and its peoples.
In 2017, Rohatyn Jewish Heritage was invited by the City of Rohatyn to contribute to the museum’s permanent exhibition, and with support and donations from other Jewish descendants we developed with the museum’s director and staff a portion of the exhibition focused on the area’s Jewish community, including a historical timeline, a survey of local Jewish family, religious, and work culture, and a small collection of artifacts which represent the people who once lived in town. This room of the museum also presents information about the presence and influence of Polish and Turkish people in Rohatyn, and together with other rooms highlighting the Ukrainian cultural history of the region, it creates an opportunity for everyone to learn about and appreciate the spectrum of the area’s multicultural history. To further support the museum and its charter, RJH also created cards with English translations of the exhibition panels on Jewish history and culture, and we are in discussion with the museum’s director and others about possible temporary exhibitions on a variety of topics with intercultural themes.
Outside of Rohatyn, RJH has also contributed both general and Rohatyn-related materials to other museums, including a 2019 multi-media exhibition organized and presented by Ukrainian Jewish Encounter at the Lviv Historical Museum. We also provide an on-the-ground connection between the two halves of former Galicia to the Galicia Jewish Museum in Kraków and hope to contribute to their visitors’ awareness of the similarities and differences of life in eastern Galicia. Museums are an especially strong way to reach people open to learning, and we will continue to look for opportunities to share our local focus with a broader audience in Europe, the Americas, and elsewhere.
Publications and Shared Media
Our research uses a variety of original sources in several formats, including print and the internet in its many facets; we review books, news and journal articles, photographs and other graphics, audio, and video plus digitized film. Often we consider these sources to be important enough for others that we share them on our website, either in their entirety (if the work is in the public domain or published without copyright restrictions) or excerpted as part of reviews we write to explain the significance of the work. Many of these shared resources are included in our website section on references and links for further study, but we have also reviewed and excerpted or transcribed Jewish memoirs and testimonies to the Shoah in Rohatyn and Ukrainian witness interviews about the same dark period. A lighter and more lively picture of pre-war Rohatyn appears in a brief but very vivid “home movie” of Rohatyn from the 1930s, which RJH re-processed for better visual quality for benefit of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, and arranged for a copy of this digitized film to run continuously in the Rohatyn museum “Opillya”.
In 2018 we prepared and published Jack Glotzer’s powerful memoir of wartime Rohatyn in a first public edition, with the support of Jack’s children and in a format which permits free reproduction of the story. With the generous help of friends and supporters, we were able to publish Ukrainian and Polish translations of the memoir as well, also for free distribution. In 2019, we are preparing to print a bilingual (English and Ukrainian) edition of Jack’s memoir for free distribution to libraries, schools, and interested organizations and individuals in western Ukraine. We will consider other original works for adaptation and publication whenever we encounter material which supports better understanding of the history and heritage of the region.
Historical Quantitative and Graphical Data
Research into the history of the Jewish community of Rohatyn and its heritage sites, and broader research about Rohatyn, its district and region, has allowed us to gather a growing amount of data copied from original records, reports, books, and other sources. Some of this data is particularly useful in social, economic, demographic, and political analysis of Rohatyn’s place in history. Where we describe and summarize these analyses, we also provide at least citations but often direct links to the sources we used in the research and analysis as well.
Key quantitative analysis prepared for the RJH website includes a historical survey of the Jewish population of Rohatyn, its district, and the region, with calculation and discussion of both the number and proportion of Jewish inhabitants relative to their Ukrainian and Polish neighbors; this review is significantly linked to original data sources.
A growing survey of historical maps of Rohatyn and the region on this website covers a span of more than 150 years and four different political administrations. Each map is interactive and layered onto modern satellite images, to permit qualitative analysis of changes in the profile of the city and region over time. These maps are useful in many different education forums, certainly not limited to Jewish studies.
Lectures, Interviews, and Presentations
As a descendant of a large Rohatyn Jewish family and as CEO of Rohatyn Jewish Heritage, Marla gives lectures and interviews several times per year to explain how Rohatyn fits in the past multicultural life of central Europe and in contemporary heritage preservation and civil society activities in western Ukraine. Some lectures have been presented alone or with others for high-school students in Rohatyn (for example in 2012 and in 2017); others have been organized as discussions with scholars in Lviv and elsewhere in Europe (for example in 2013, in 2016, in 2017, in 2018, and in 2019).
Interviews Marla has given about RJH’s work and articles quoting her which inform about the complicated history of the region have been published in print, radio, and video formats by media organizations in Ukraine, France, Germany, the UK, Poland, the US, Canada, Israel, and international web news portals. Many of these articles and interviews are accessible from the media page on this website.
Heritage Promotion on Social Media
As a news medium, an education resource, and significantly as a rallying point for inspiring heritage preservation and volunteerism, Rohatyn Jewish Heritage increasingly uses social media (primarily through our Facebook page) to bring current issues into a wide public sphere but also into narrower closed or special-focus groups with interest in cross-cultural issues.
The education potential of social media is considerable. By actively managing posts and the resulting online discussions, RJH has an opportunity to mediate concerns and interests of individuals and organizations in Rohatyn with those of others all over the world, and to provide a two-way information exchange of real-time heritage issues and progress. The ability of social networking to unite people in common causes despite their physical distance around the globe can be tremendous; our Facebook page and Marla’s personal account have substantially contributed to several successes on heritage projects for RJH and for other organizations in western Ukraine.
Local Heritage Tours for Educators
Beyond the virtual experience, most heritage sites are best understood in person, where the significance of the objects and their context can be appreciated through study and discussion with experts. To inform and support educators and guides who will lead others in visits to and encounters with the Jewish heritage of Rohatyn, RJH participates in organized seminars, tours, and forums which focus specifically on Rohatyn or feature the town as an example of larger topics. Some tours of the heritage tours are informal, for example with visiting Peace Corps Volunteers in Ukraine, many of whom teach at their service posts across the country and can help to renew memory of Jewish life in the schools. More formally, RJH contributed to an on-site seminar by Centropa, a Vienna-based non-profit historical institute which trains educators and civil society activists in Jewish history so they have the materials and perspectives they need to amplify and incorporate the Jewish past of their areas into projects and curricula for their own students. RJH also provided local expertise for part of a Galician tour of Jewish and other heritage sites led by Rootka, a Lublin-based tour operator affiliated with Brama Grodzka – Teatra NN; Rootka guided other tour guides plus educators and activists so that each of the participants would have direct personal experience and understanding of the sites, their history, and their importance to the communities they served. Rohatyn Jewish Heritage will continue to participate in educational tours which help to promote the Jewish heritage and the history to which it is tied.
Best Practices in Regional Heritage Preservation
Everyone working in the field of heritage preservation needs information and advice about materials, tools, methods, risks, and communication; certainly we do. While there is some information available about approaches to heritage preservation in Western Europe and North America, there is very little published practical information (online or in books) which be directly applied or adapted when dealing with the varieties of damaged Jewish heritage in east central Europe, for example in western Ukraine and eastern Poland.
Rohatyn Jewish Heritage is not alone in recognizing this void. The web portal Jewish Heritage Europe (JHE) aims to collect and share best practices in protection and rehabilitation of cemeteries and other Jewish heritage across Europe, highlighting regional differences where possible, and RJH promotes JHE as a valuable information hub in need of contributions reflecting hands-on experience. We have also participated in two important networking roundtable events in Lviv which brought together local heritage activists, city and regional administrators, Jewish descendants, and religious leaders, to share working experiences, recommendations, and ideas for amplifying the efforts of individuals and small volunteer organizations. RJH will continue to work with both of these forums to develop useful information.
Because of a scarcity of practical information, we have also worked alongside experienced heritage practitioners in order to learn from them, in effect in an apprenticeship role. Working with The Matzevah Foundation, twice in Poland and then in Rohatyn, we learned and applied lessons in tool selection and use in the clearing of overgrown cemeteries as well as in the management of large and multi-day volunteer projects. We have partnered repeatedly with the Lviv Volunteer Center (LVC) in heritage actions organized by RJH in Rohatyn, in varied one-day and multi-day work and culture camps organized by the LVC in the Lviv oblast, and in third-party actions organized by others, learning from their planning and leadership experience on small and large projects. Talking and working in a small cemetery with the stonemasons of Stowarzyszenie Magurycz, we gained an introduction to cleaning, repairing, and raising fallen headstones. As we learn from these experts, and especially as we extend the lessons and further experiment in Rohatyn and elsewhere, we continue to take notes and photographs for a future best-practices publication with tested methods and materials, both good and bad.
We anticipate the lessons we have learned (and continue to learn) in heritage preservation will first be published online as an output of the Fulbright research project Marla will lead during the 2019-2020 academic year.
As noted in the introduction to this page, volunteer efforts by RJH and others drive progress on most aspects of this project, but targeted donations have provided the materials and financing for several of the project components. We would particularly like to acknowledge the kind donations by Laurence Kirsch and Bruce and Susan Turnbull of the Bolechow Jewish Heritage Society for funding the translation and printing of Jack Glotzer’s memoir; Robert Gruszczyńksi for his volunteer Polish translation of Jack Glotzer’s memoir; Zehava Cohen-Sivan, Paul Gutenplan, Marla Raucher Osborn, Deborah Ozair, and the Rohatyn Internat for donations of Jewish historical artifacts for use in the permanent exhibition at the Rohatyn “Opillya” Museum; Jeremy Borovitz and the Borovitz family for funding the licensing of the Fanny Holtzmann film in display at the “Opillya” Museum; and the Rohatyn District Research Group (RDRG) headed by Dr. Alex Feller for family photos, stories, records, and other information offered for use throughout the education resources described on this page. Total project expenses paid by cash donations through 2018, not counting volunteer efforts or artifacts for museums, is about US$1200.