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Locate Rohatyn's Jewish Mass Graves

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On March 20 of this year, I stood at a memorial to more than 3000 murdered Jews of Rohatyn, Ukraine, killed 75 years earlier on that date by the German SS and military. The victims were buried in large pits somewhere nearby in the days that followed, but today no one knows exactly where. Time and post-war Soviet indifference have erased the physical evidence of the graves, along with the names and faces of most of the victims. Many of my own family are buried in those pits, wherever they are. It is time to find them.


Four children of my family are shown in this 1937 Hebrew school kindergarten photo; all of them perished in Rohatyn and are buried somewhere in the mass graves.

A second site in the city contains another mass grave, possibly even larger, of Jews murdered a year later when the Jewish ghetto was liquidated and destroyed, killing most of the surviving Rohatyn Jews and many more from the surrounding towns and villages. The actual boundary of this grave is also unknown, but clues have surfaced over the past decades when work at the large site unearthed bones.


Somewhere at this site, thousands of murdered men, women, and children were buried in 1943.


Toba and Mayer Glotzer in Rohatyn before the war. While Mayer was in America, Toba was murdered during the ghetto liquidation and buried in a common grave in 1943. Photo courtesy of the Glotzer family collection.

Imprecise records suggest there may also be a third mass grave in one of the town's Jewish cemeteries.


This Jewish cemetery may also hide a mass grave.

The current residents of Rohatyn, now in independent Ukraine, respect the Jewish mass grave sites as cemeteries, avoiding agricultural and industrial work in the areas where they guess the graves may be; they also tend to the memorial markers, cleaning them and planting flowers each year. This year the City is working to improve the cemeteries and memorials of all periods and cultures in town; as part of that work, they want to develop one of the Holocaust sites as a memorial and park. The uncertainty about the actual location of the graves makes planning difficult, and implementation risky.


The large potential survey areas at the 1943 mass grave site.

One of my contacts in town, an 83-year-old retired teacher who works to preserve the memory of the Jews in Rohatyn, saw the open graves at one of the sites as a child, a day or two after the killings; it scarred him for life. At the small ceremony on March 20 this year, he expressed remorse that neither he nor anyone else permanently marked the grave locations, which had been obvious in the first years after the war.


A local man recalls his experience as a child at the burial site in 1942.

That the grave locations are unknown now is no one's fault, but it is a further injustice to the dead who lie there, somewhere. I am hoping to recover the facts about the boundaries of the graves, and I could use your help.


The mass grave from the 1942 killings is somewhere in this large field.

My husband and I have led a volunteer program of Jewish heritage preservation in Rohatyn for the past six years; the program includes documenting history and culture, to help put the physical heritage in context. With support from other volunteers and donors from around the world, as well as the residents and the City of Rohatyn, in past years we have primarily focused on the recovery of Jewish headstones from under the streets - stones which were taken from the Jewish cemeteries during the war. With that project ongoing, and in anticipation of the City's plans for a Holocaust memorial, last year we decided to make locating the mass grave boundaries our priority for this year; we quit our jobs and moved to western Ukraine to support the effort. It is already a large task in preparation, but much of the work is still ahead of us.

Locating and evaluating graves is the work of archaeologists. However, Jewish traditions of respect for the dead prohibit disturbing the soil over graves except in rare and unavoidable circumstances, so we cannot allow excavation at the sites in Rohatyn. We have commissioned a professional team from the Centre of Archaeology at Staffordshire University in the UK to perform non-invasive scanning at the surface of the sites using ground-penetrating radar and other techniques, to make what is invisible below the earth visible in signal analysis. The team has extensive forensic research experience, and specifically at Holocaust sites in Europe, including the Treblinka extermination camp.


Clearing and survey plan areas for the 1942 mass grave site.

The research project will proceed in three phases: documentation review and site preparation, on-site survey, and post-survey analysis and reporting. The on-site survey is scheduled for May 25 through June 2 of this year. Success in the survey and the analysis is not guaranteed, but we hope to have geographically-defined grave boundary points with good confidence before the end of 2017. We will of course publish the results on our website for all to read.


The cast and crew of a 1920 production of King Lear, in Rohatyn; my relative Tonka Horn is shown in the middle row, second from left. She died in Rohatyn during the war. Photo courtesy of the Jack Faust Photo Collection.

The scope of work is large and the price tag on this scientific work is high: over $24,000 for the archaeologists (including their travel, equipment, and time), plus an estimated $3200 in additional support costs (ground clearing contractors, interpreters, van rental, tools, and supplies). We are very fortunate to have support from the City of Rohatyn to prepare one of the sites before the survey, and volunteers from the Lviv Volunteer Center clearing for free at another of the sites. To date we have received gifts from family and friends to cover about $4000 of the overall cost. My husband and I have committed to cover all of the expense out of our savings for whatever we cannot raise through donations. We are asking for $16,000 in help, so that we can preserve that part of our savings for other Jewish heritage and memorial projects in Rohatyn, including marking the mass grave sites, rehabilitation of the Jewish cemeteries, and more.

The project cost I quoted here is for the work of others; my husband and I always pay all of our own transit and work expenses and as many of the expenses of others as we can. If you donate, your help will go directly to pay for the archaeology effort. Because the result of that work will be only numbers (geographic coordinates), we don't have any perks or gifts to offer, but we will be very proud to list your name on our mass graves project website as a supporter of the effort.

Thank you for your help.
Marla Raucher Osborn

For more information:
- our program website:
http://rohatynjewishheritage.org/en/
- the mass graves project, including planning documentation:
http://rohatynjewishheritage.org/en/projects/mass-grave-memorials/
- the March 20 memorial event:
http://rohatynjewishheritage.org/2017/03/rohatyn-remembers-75-years/
- about us:
http://rohatynjewishheritage.org/en/info/about/


The 75th anniversary memorial at the 1942 mass grave site.


El Malei Rachamim recited at the site of the mass grave, on the 75th anniversary of the killings.

Organiser

Marla Raucher Osborn
Organiser
Dublin, CA

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