Ukrainian Jewish Heritage – Rohatyn Part 1

Rohatyn is a city located on the Hnyla Lypa River in the Ivano-Frankivsk Oblast, in western Ukraine. It is the administrative center of the Rohatyn Raion.

It was first mentioned in historical documents in 1184 as a part of the Kingdom of Galicia–Volhynia. Its name seems to be derived from Ruthenia, the name of the region of the location. However, on the town’s crest is the horn of a deer. This may explain the first part of the city’s name … the Ukrainian word for horn is “Rih.” Many deer live in the nearby forest; they were a part of daily life in the area.

Today Rohatyn remembers its Jewish history and past times. This is due in large part to local historian and retired teacher Mykhaylo Vorobets. On a recent visit to Rohatyn, I was happy to meet this amazing man.
Mykhaylo Vorobets was born in 1934 in a village near Rohatyn. He devoted his life to teaching children at a local school. Although he retired last year, students still come to his house.

During his lifetime he collected and compiled information about Rohatyn. He interviewed older people, visited archives and libraries for research, and has written many articles.

People often will bring him old maps, photos, documents because they know he is interested in history.

His work is well-known in the town. Whenever strangers come to town looking for information from the past, locals direct them to visit Mr Vorobets. That was how I found him.

Mr Vorobets told me about the first Nazi atrocity in Rohatyn. He was just a boy of  seven when the Nazis murdered a large number of the city’s Jews. He recalls his father’s compassion for those people and how sickened he was at the sight of two big holes filled with dead bodies.

Two mass graves are located in different parts of the city, as well as two monuments to the victims of Nazis.

Rohatyn still has two synagogues. During the Soviet period one of them housed a bakery and now is a warehouse. The other houses a Centre for Children’s Leisure Activities. At this site is a memorial plaque commemorating the Jewish community that lived in the city for 600 years and was completely destroyed by the Nazis in the years 1941 – 1944.

Also Rohatyn has two Jewish cemeteries, an old and a new one. Unfortunately, all that is left today are the remains of matsevas, Jewish tombstones.

The old cemetery is located next to one of the oldest wooden churches in district and its adjoining Christian cemetery. Only a few matsevas are in this cemetery. But there is a monument dedicated to Holocaust survivors who come from Rohatyn. It was made in 1998.

Also there is an ohel, a structure built over a Jewish grave signifying the prominence of the person buried within. Ohalim range from small wooden, brick, or plaster structures to large buildings which include one or more graves, an area for visitors to sit and meditate, and a tombstone with Torah.

People with Jewish roots visiting Rohatyn are always happy to find someone who remembers the city’s Jews and honours their memory. They always end up becoming close friends with Mr. Vorodets, who is now responsible for all the Jewish cites in Rohatyn.

The new Jewish cemetery was destroyed by the Nazis. Recently, however, a woman named Marla Osborn, who has been researching her family history in Galicia, created something called the Rohatyn matsevot memorial project. The mission of the Rohatyn matsevot memorial is to preserve the newly discovered gravestones and to commemorate ancestors who were buried in the Jewish cemeteries in Rohatyn.

More about Marla and her project in the next episode of Ukrainian Jewish Heritage on Nash Holos Ukrainian Roots Radio.

Until next time, Shalom.

-Narrated by  Renata Hanynets
Faina Petryakova Scientific Centre for Judaica and Jewish Art
Lviv, Ukraine.

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