Marla Raucher Osborn is a former California attorney whose family originates from Rohatyn, in western Ukraine. Now based in Warsaw, she works as a researcher, writer, and lecturer.
Marla has been researching her family’s history for several years. Her first visit to Rohatyn was in 2008. She walked the town and shot photos, but she had nothing to work with –no records, no period photos, no maps, and no translator. It was the middle of winter when she visited. The days were cold and dark, and everything was wet and muddy. On that trip she did not find either of the two Jewish mass grave sites she was looking for, and only one of the two former Jewish cemeteries. She was very disappointed.
By 2010 she had joined a Rohatyn descendants group. This group was formed in the summer of 2009 by Dr. Alex Feller of the Rohatyn Shtetl Resesarch Group. The RSRG has over 150 members worldwide in America, Israel, Europe, South America, and Australia. The members share photos, stories, and information. They pool resources for placing orders of records and historic maps. Some lecture at genealogy conferences and write articles to raise awareness of the group.
Between 2010 and 2012 Marla returned to Rohatyn at least a dozen times, including several overnight trips. On a few visits other members of the RSRG joined her. Her work soon attracted media attention. A French reporter who was writing an article about Jewish heritage tours in Galicia joined Marla’s group. And in the summer of 2011, Dr. Feller and Marla gave an interview to local Ukrainian TV about this group.
The latest discoveries were brought to their attention by Mr. Mykhaylo Vorobets, an 80-year old retired teacher and local historian. For over 20 years he has been single-handedly maintaining the upkeep of the two memorials at Rohatyn’s Jewish mass grave sites and the two Jewish cemeteries.
He has also been moving any Jewish headstones, called matsevas, found in town back to the cemeteries. Mr Vorobets remembers all the sites where matsevas were removed to be used as paving stones during the Nazi occupation are. That’s why and how the Rohatyn Matzevot Memorial Project was created.
At the beginning of April this year Mr. Vorobets discovered 25 matsevas in the center of the city, next to the local library.
The mission of the Rohatyn Matzevot Memorial Project is to preserve the discovered gravestones of the Rohatyn Tombstone Recovery Project and to commemorate ancestors who were buried in the Jewish cemeteries of Rohatyn. The project leader of the Rohatyn Matzevot Memorial Project is Marla Raucher Osborn who also coordinated the Rohatyn Tombstone Recovery Project.
Currently, Marla is working with artist Andrij Bojarov to design a memorial wall containing over 100 discovered gravestones. It will be built in the Old Jewish Cemetery of Rohatyn which lies on a hill overlooking the town.
In 2012 Marla gave a lecture in Rohatyn’s high school. It was arranged by Mr. Vorobets. About 150 students and teachers attended. The students were attentive, and at least a dozen students and an equal number of teachers took part in a lively question and answer period after her talk. Marla is proud that the young people of Rohatyn know more of their local history – their Jewish history – than most Ukrainian high school students living today outside major urban areas such as Lviv.
You can follow Marla and her work on Facebook. Just search for the group Rohatyn Jewish Heritage. There you will find photos and information on the progress of this amazing project to commemorate Rohaytn’s Jewish past.
Until next time, Shalom!
-Narrated by Renata Hanynets
Faina Petryakova Scientific Centre for Judaica and Jewish Art