“Rohatyn” - Encyclopedia of Jewish
Communities in Poland, Volume II
(Rogatin, Ukraine)

49°25' / 24°37'

Translation of “Rohatyn” chapter from
Pinkas Hakehillot Polin

Published by Yad Vashem

Published in Jerusalem


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This is a translation from: Pinkas Hakehillot Polin:
Encyclopedia of Jewish Communities, Poland, Volume II, pages 506-510, published by Yad Vashem, Jerusalem


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[Pages 506-510]

Rohatyn, Ukraine

(Rohatyn District, Stanislawow Province)

Translated by Ruth Yoseffa Erez

 

Population counts:

Year Total
Population
Jewish
Population
1765 (?) 797
1810 (?) 1216
1880 5101 3035
1890 7188 3503
1900 7204 3217
1910 7664 3254
1921 5736 2223
1931 (?) 3002

 

Jewish presence from its beginning until 1919

Rohatyn was on the main road from Stanislawow to Lwow and from Tarnopol to Stryj. It is recorded for the first time in documents from 1375 and was probably established long before that time. Until the beginning of the 15th century, Rohatyn was a royal town, later it belonged to a private landowner for a while in return for a loan that he gave to the king.After a few decades, it turned back into a royal town. In 1535 the town got city rights based on the Magdeburg rights. As a border town, Rohatyn suffered invasions mostly by the Tatars.

During the 17th century and especially during the Cossacks' wars, Rohatyn was badly hurt. Many left and in the suburb, only 31 out of 100 houses were left. In 1772, after Poland was divided, the city was given to Countess Zofia Lubomirska. In the middle of the 19th century, it was releases from private property and became the district's center town.

The first mention of Jews in Rohatyn is from 1463. The document talks about a Jew from Żydaczów named Shimshon, who traded cattle in Rohatyn's market. Jewish settlement in Rohatyn is first mentioned in 1564, but it seems that until the end of the 16th century, the Jewish population was small and it was part of the Lwow community. In 1582 a Jew named Mendel Izakowicz, leased the collection of taxes on liquor in Rohatyn. In 1633, Rohatyn Jews received municipal rights from the Polish King which included the right to build a synagogue and a cemetery. Jews were given the same rights to trade as the town's Christians. These rights were approved by the Polish kings on 1633 and 1669. The latter privilege included the right to own a house in the market place. The relations between the town's people and the Jews knew good and bad times. At times, the townspeople protected the town's Jews and their families from the owner of the town who harassed them, and at other times, Christian craftsmen were at constant competition with their Jewish rivalry and even banned shoes that were made by Jewish shoemakers.

On 1718 the Halicz sejmik instructed their nobles to stop leasing the collection of taxes, customs and rental of properties to Jews and Armenians. At that time it was decided that Jews are not allowed to hire Christian servants. During that period, the Rohatyn Jewish community paid 715 goldens (zloty) and 12 groschen as head tax.

At the beginning of the 18th century, the Rohatyn Jewish community became independent. We can learn about the importance of the Rohatyn community at that time from the great Jewish scholars who served there. The first one we know of is R' Moses Ben Daniel who published the book “Sugyot ha-Talmud” (Questions from the Talmud) in Zolkiev on 1693. This work was published again 14 years later in Germany in its original language (Hebrew), alongside a Latin translation. The publisher was Bashuysen, the Dutch Calvinist who studied philology. At the beginning of the 18th century, Rohatyn's Rabbi was R' Avraham Leibers, the son of Reb Zalman Leibers, the parnas (leader) of the Lwow Jewish community. In the middle of the 18th century the rabbi was Rabbi David Moshe Avraham, known by the shortened version of his name, Rabbi Adam. His books and manuscripts were never printed except for one book “Mirkevet Hamishne” (The Second Chariot) which was published by his granddaughter on 1892, under the instructions of the Admor of Belz. In the preface to this book, we are told about the connections of R' Adam with the Baal Shem Tov. Many manuscripts were left including “Tiferet Adam”(Man's Beauty). R' Adam was known for his war against the Frankists.

R' Avraham Shlomo succeeded him as Rohatyn's Rabbi. The last residing Rabbi of that period was Rabbi Itzhak Ben Aharon, who signed the census on 1764-1765;

The influence of Sabbatai Zvi was considerable, and he had many followers in Rohatyn. R' Yehuda Ha'Chasid's movement was also popular among Rohatyn Jews, and when Jacob Frank's movement started to spread, it too found many followers among Rohatyn Jews. The local Jewish preacher, Elisha Schorr, a descendent of R' Zalman Naftali Schorr, who was Lublin's Rabbi, joined the cult with his sons and daughters. In a debate in Lanckorona (1757), Elisha Schorr and his son Shlomo served as major speakers in behalf of the cult. The same was true for a debate in Lwow on 1759. His daughter in law (Shlomo's wife) and his daughter served as “holy” prophetesses of the cult and completely gave in (sexually) to the cult members. In 1759, 49 of the Rohatyn Jews converted to Christianity; this included the Schorr family, who was given a title of nobility under a new name of Wolowski. Most of the Jews in Rohatyn and the community pursued the cult. The head of the family had to run away to Turkey, where he was murdered, but his sons Shlomo-Lukash Franciszek, Natan-Pavel and Michal-Jan had an important role in the cult, and their descendants were renowned for their political and cultural involvement in Poland's history. Shlomo even travelled to Petersburg to convince the empress Yekaterina (Catherine) that the new Christians are indeed true Christians.

Right after the Austrian era started (after 1772), many decrees were held against Rohatyn Jews. In 1776 the Jewish autonomy was cancelled. At the head of the Jewish community was a committee of 3 members whose sole role was to collect the taxes. And truly at that time, the taxes placed on the Jews were very heavy: tolerance-tax, marriage-tax (under different categories), meat tax and candle tax. According to calculation of the municipality of Zloczow, each Jewish family in Rohatyn had to pay an average of 30 Florin per year. On top of this, the authorities collected from the Jews all the debts from the Polish time with interest. The Jewish community in Rohatyn had to pay the monasteries and other private creditors the amount of 1,750 golden and a smaller amount as its share in the debts of the Ruthenia community. For a while Jews were driven away from the leasing of all estates and taverns and their main livelihood was small scale trade and crafts. Jewish attempts at being productive included the establishment of a village called “Neu Babylon” where 12 families from Rohatyn tried to settle. But this attempt was not successful and shortly after, the families left the village.

On 1788, a Jewish school was established by H. Homburg, the head of which was a teacher named Kornfeld, but the school closed on 1806 together with the rest of the Jewish schools.

The Jewish tax collectors were hard on the Jewish community. One of them, Kreisler, that seemed to have lied to the authorities, was punished with ten whippings.

In the middle of the 19th century, the head of the Jewish community for many years was Benjamin Wunderlich. He was a tough man and was not well accepted by the members of the community. Already at the beginning of the 19th century, Hasidism started to spread, based on the center in Stratyn. The founder of this Hassidism, R' Yehuda Zvi Brandwein, relocated to Rohatyn when he got older and so did some of his heirs. There were also Hasidic groups affiliated with Belz and Rizhin.

Starting in 1868, the condition of the Jews in Rohatyn started to improve. After the town was connected to the railroad system, small factories were built, most of which were owned by Jews. A winery, a beer brewery, a brick factory a few flour mills and even two printing houses were established. A thin layer of rich Jews was formed including the Nagelberg family, descendents of R' Adam. An important occupation among the Jews was driving wagons; Jews were making living of trade and handicrafts as well. Based on a census by the loan society in 1913, there were 590 merchants, 42 craftsmen, 19 farmers and 44 free professions (lawyers, accountants etc.) in Rohatyn's Jewish community. The last quarter of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century were characterized by plenty of sustenance. Organizations for credit giving and charities were formed. In 1906 the I. C. A. Loan Society was founded, which had 385 members on 1908. In this same year, the society granted 346 loans amounting to 71,425 crowns. More public organizations that were founded at that time were “Supporters of Merchants”, “Association of Merchants” who granted loans, and “Yad Harutzim” (hand of the diligent). Among the charity organization, we will mention: “Dorshei Tov” (Seekers of Goodness), “Rodfei Zedek” (Pursuers of Justice) and the Women's Society for helping women and children.

Among the Rohatyn Rabbis from the time of the Austrian rule, we know of R' Eliezar Horowitz , from the family of the Stanislawow rabbis (1866–1868), Rabbi Meir Yehuda, the son of R' Shmuel Glass, from the beginning of the 70's until he died on 1894. In 1896 Rabbi Natan Lewin was appointed as Rohatyn's Rabbi. He was an educated man who successfully passed the matriculation exams and spoke Polish and German fluently. R' Levin was able to make peace between the ultra Orthodox Jews and the ones who assimilated. While he served as Rohatyn's Rabbi, he grew closer to the Zionist idea and eulogized Hertzel. He supported the Hebrew schools and helped to establish a modern “Torah study”. In 1905 he was appointed as the rabbi of Rzeszow and left. In his place, no Rabbi was appointed, but two Rabbinical judges were appointed instead: R' Meir-Shmuel Henna of Strzeliska, who was nicknamed “the old Rabbinical Judge”, and R' Avraham David Spiegel from Rohatyn who was nicknamed “the young Rabbinical Judge” (and was killed in the Holocaust).

In 1868, for the first time, the Jews in Rohatyn had the right to vote for the town council. The elected council consisted of 18 Poles, 6 Ukrainians and 6 Jews. The elected Jews were among the educated people in town and they joined the initiative of Tarnow and Cracow's Jews to abolish the Jewish community's institutions, so that the city council will handle the Jew's affairs. As we know, this proposal was not accepted by the authorities and it's not surprising that most of the Jews in Rohatyn opposed it as well.

In the years 1904-1910 the head of the Jewish community in Rohatyn was Alter Weidmann. While he was in this position, a synagogue was built whose murals decorations were amongst the most beautiful in Galicia. He also handed a hand in the establishment of a complimentary Hebrew school by the community on 1904. At the time Rafal Soferman headed the Hebrew school and was teaching in it, the school served as the center of all Hebrew schools in Austria. Rafal Soferman made Aliyah to Israel on 1912 and served in many important roles in the education arena in Israel.

In 1907, a Ukrainian gymnasium was established in Rohatyn and on 1910, a Polish one as well. Jewish students attended both.

The Zionist movement was formed at the beginning of the 1890's by Shalom Melzer, a very religious and educated Jew. The name of the organization was “B'nai Zion” (“Sons of Zion”) and as soon as 1895, it joined Herzl's movement. The organization had 100 members on 1898. In the first conference of “Ha' Mizrachi” in Austria, which was held in Pressburg (1904), a Zionist activist from Rohatyn participated - Shalom Melzer. In 1907 a Women Zionist group was formed, named “Ruth”.

Until the beginning of the 20th century, there was only one general elementary school in Rohatyn. Jews studied in the “Cheder”, and as was mentioned earlier, during the time of R' Levin, a modern “Torah study” was established.

When WWI broke, many Jews escaped, for the fear of Pogroms, to inner Austria. As expected, the Russian conqueror was very brutal towards the Jews. Two Jews were executed at the charges of over pricing soap by 2 kopeks. Before the Russians left town on August1915, they took with them most of the heads of the Jewish families. This was done brutally, and when one of the men declined to come, they expelled his wife instead. A few months later, the detainees were released and were allowed back in Rohatyn. They were only able to reach Tarnopol because Rohatyn was on the other side of the war front. They finally arrived to Rohatyn only in 1917, except 150 of them which died in the plagues.

On 1918 a Jewish hospital was established for a short period of time in which the wounded Jewish soldiers and those who had contagious diseases were hospitalized, and indeed many of them were saved.

At the time of the Western Republic of Ukraine rule in Rohatyn (November 1918-May 1919), there were 3,000 Jews in Rohatyn, many of whom were from small towns and villages in the area. About 2,000 of them were needy. Local authorities harassed the Jews and there were incidents of Ukrainian soldiers robbing and attacking the passers by. This situation continued until the city was conquered by the Polish army on May 1919.

 

Between two World Wars

During the renewed Polish rule in Rohatyn, the economical state of the Jews got worse. In order to compete with the Jews, Ukrainians formed at the beginning of the 20th century a cooperative supermarket and so did the Poles. The ruins of the war were not rebuilt for many years. During the crisis between the years 1928 and 1930, many merchants went bankrupt. Many craftsmen and workers were unemployed. At the end of the 30's, with the Ritual slaughter laws, 20 Jewish butchers lost their jobs. Only a few Jewish owned tiny factories were left which supplied only a few jobs: Sweets factory, 2 printing houses, soda factory and a flour mill. Craftsmen who were able to make a living: 10 tailors, 5 barbers, 8 shoe makers, 6 carpenters, 1 belt maker, 3 builders and 6 watchmakers. A few Physicians, attorneys and teachers were amongst the local intelligentsia.

At the beginning of the 1930's, a charity fund was established. In 1936 it gave out loans to 58 craftsmen, 92 small merchants, 13 workers and 51 others. The total credit amounted that year to 10,904 zloty. In addition to that charity fund, there was a cooperative loans fund that served, so it seems, the wealthiest Jews in Rohatyn.

During the 30's, a public kitchen was formed, where lunches were handed out for no money or for a symbolic price for the ones who needed it most, mostly former home owners who went bankrupt. The kitchen was funded by Rohatyners who lived In the US.

From 1910 till he died in 1930, Dr. Pinchas Stern headed the Zionist community. During that time, the community was able to rebuild the synagogue that was destroyed during the war and to obtain land for a new cemetery. In 1932 Rabbi Mordechai Lipa Teumim became Rohatyn's Rabbi. He was only 27, and already known as a bright scholar and one who had broad knowledge.

In the municipal election, there was only one Jewish party. In 1927, this party received, upon agreement with the Poles and the Ukrainians, 16 out of 48 seats. Dr. Goldschlag was elected city's vice mayor. In 1932 and 1939, Jews were elected only to the city's administration.

The strongest Zionist organization in town was the “General Zionists” branch. At the beginning of the 20's, there were “Poalei Zion” (“Workers of Zion”) and later “Hitachdut” (“Unity”) (then they were both united into one party on 1931). “Poalei Zion“members were also members of the local Jewish professional union, they even held a strike in the Jewish printing house. In 1930 “the Revisionists” and “Mizrachi” got organized. “Hashomer Hatzair” (“The Young Guard”) branch was established on 1919, next to which was a branch of the “Stam-Chalutz” (“General Pioneers”). At the end of the 1920's, another movement was formed which was later split into the “HaNoar HaTsioni” (“Zionist Youth”) and Akiva. At the same time, Gordonia and Betar were formed; the latter was the biggest youth movement in Rohatyn towards the end of the 30's.

Results of elections to the Zionist Congresses

Year “General
Zionists”
“Mizrachi” “Hitachdut” “Poalei Zion” “Revisionists”
State party
1927 23 28 41 3 -----
1931 180 16 89 148
1935 398 118 369 451
1939 192 98 184 ---

 

In Rohatyn, there was a government operated elementary school for Jews (“Shabasubka”). Most of the Jewish children studied there, and a few continued to attend the “Torah study”. They complemented it with the Hebrew studies in the Hebrew school. The biggest Jewish library was by the branch of the “General Zionists”. The other youth movements' branches also operated their own libraries. In the 1930's a Drama club and a Maccabi sport club were formed.

 

World War 2

About a week after the war broke on September 1939, hundreds of Jewish refugees from western Poland, fleeing from the German army, arrived to Rohatyn. On September 14 1939, fearing a German occupation, a few Jewish local families left for the Romanian border. Nevertheless as soon as September 18 1939, units of the Red army entered the town. With the establishment of the Soviet rule on the fall of 1939, all Jewish communal and Political activities carrying a national characteristic, seized. Jewish factories were nationalized and the private retailer commerce grew smaller slowly. In 1940, Cooperatives were formed in Rohatyn of craftsmen, tailors, shoemakers, tinsmiths, bakers and more, who were mostly managed by Jews and had a decisive majority of Jewish members. The big numbers of Jews was evident in the municipal services, in the groceries chain and in the official marketing. In the spring of 1940, a few Jews, who used to be among the Politicians and wealthy families, were arrested in Rohatyn. The Jewish community followed the trial of Shlomo Grad, who was accused of overpricing, very closely. Like others, he was deported to the Soviet Union. According to different estimations, some 2000 Jewish refugees came to Rohatyn for shelter. In spring of 1940 many of them registered to go back to their hometowns under the German occupation, since it was hard for them to find housing and jobs in Rohatyn. By the end of June 1940, hundreds of these refugees were deported to the Soviet Union. The orthodox Jews continued to maintain the synagogues despite the heavy taxes they had to pay to the authorities. After the war broke between Germany and the Soviet Union, a few dozen Jewish young men were able to flee the town at the end of June 1941, but some of them were killed on the way by German bombardments or by nationalistic Ukrainians.

Rohatyn was conquered by the Germans on July 2 1941. On July 6 1941, groups of Jews were concentrated at the central market square by Ukrainian policemen, and were humiliated and hit with iron rods. On July 12 1941, around 500 Jews were brought into the synagogue, were held there for many hours, and were humiliated and forced to pray for Hitler's victory. In the surrounding villages, there were pogroms, and in one, Dzitzki, some Jews were murdered.

Towards the end of July 1941, the Judenrat was created, headed by Shlomo Amarant, among its members were: Shlomo Kreisler, Chaim Shkolnik, Lipa Mandel, Pinchas Spiegel, Yonah Horn, Dr. Goldschlag, Dr. Freiwald, Dr. Rosenstein, Dr. Gotwort, Feivel Hochberg, M. Katz and some refugees from western Poland. The Jewish police was headed by M. Weissbrum. The Judenrat was told to hold a census of the Jewish population. The employment bureau had to supply professional workers for manual labor in the factories and hundreds of other Jews to help fix the war damages in the roads, bridges and railroad tracks. In august 1941, the Germans made the community pay a contribution of hundreds of thousands of Rubles, and that was on top of endless demands for a supply of furniture, rugs, coffee, tea and other valuables.

In the fall of 1941, the ghetto was established in a neighborhood of shaky houses. There were three entrances to the ghetto: by the Catholic-Greek church, by the house of Alter Faust and by the road that led to Zalozce. The ghetto was extremely crowded. The separation from the outside world, made it difficult to get food, and in those conditions a typhus plague spread causing tens to die each day. A hospital for contagious diseases was formed in the ghetto, but the small medical staff was not able to stop the plague, and in many cases it only served to isolate the sick. Towards the end of 1941, Jews from Czercze , Potok, Babince , Zalipie and Podkamien joined the ghetto.

In the winter of 1941-1942, Ukrainian gangs made it a habit to enter the ghetto in order to rob the residents' property. These acts resulted in constant fear inside the ghetto and caused groups of youth to get together for self defense, which sometimes succeeded in driving away the rioters from the ghetto. On December 1941, the Jews were ordered to hand out all their furs to the Germans. In the middle of February 1942, groups of Jews were taken to dig pits in the ground close to the train station. The Germans spread a rumor that the pits are intended to be used as foundations of a new brick factory, but the real intension was revealed shortly after. On March 20 1942, Germans entered the ghetto together with Ukrainian police and groups of armed people that were drafted from the local Ukrainian population, and started to gather the Jews in the market square. Tens of Jews were killed trying to escape on the way to the gathering square, or escaping from the square once they got there. There were also attempts to escape the ghetto through the bridge over the Gnila Lipa River, but only a few were successful. Most were shot by the policemen who surrounded the ghetto or by locals. The Jews that were gathered in the square were led the same day to the pits that they dug ahead of time and were shot dead. The wounded suffocated to death under the dead and the earth that covered the pits. In this massacre, more than 2000 were tragically killed including 500 children. Local farmers wandered around the pits looking for cloths and other possessions of the dead. In this Action, a few members of the Judenrat were killed as well.

In the spring of 1942, Jews from Bursztyn, Knihynicze and Bukaczowce entered the ghetto which was narrowed down by then. In these conditions of crowdedness and endless impoverishment, hunger and disease grew bigger in the summer of 1942. At that time feverish activity took place trying to prepare hideouts in the ghetto before another Action took place.

In September 20 1942 special preparation was felt in town. Many special units of the German and Ukrainian police imposed fear among the ghetto Jews, that something terrible is about to happen. The Jewish policemen, who were at the ghetto gates at night, told the community that danger is getting closer. And so when the Germans and their helpers stormed into the ghetto on the early morning of September 2 1942, they had difficulty finding the Jews, who had enough time to find a place to hide. As a result, most efforts of the Germans and their helpers were to find the hiding places and it took them a few hours to gather 1000 Jews to the train station. They were brought into freight cars whose floor was covered with still burning whitewash, which when wet, would cause great misery to the exiled Jews, who were transferred in these conditions to Belzec extermination camp. Some were able to break the small windows and car walls and jump, but the few who were not killed while jumping or shot by the guards or by local farmers, returned to the ghetto.

In October-November of 1942, the leftovers from Codorow's ghetto and a few groups from Bursztyn, Bukaczowce and Bolszowice entered the ghetto. On December 8 1942[1] German police units from Tarnopol entered Rohatyn and with the help of the local police, started an Action. This time, many were surprised and did not have time to hide. The elderly and sick were murdered on the spot. Also murdered in this Action were the patients and staff of the hospital. At the end of this Action, 1,500 were transferred to Belzec extermination camp.

The news that arrived to the ghetto on the spring of 1943 told of German defeats in the front and encouraged the survivors of the community to try even harder to find a rescue. Groups of Jews tried to hide in the surrounding forests, and some tried to use “Arian documents”. In both cases Jews were failed by the locals who would hand them over to the Germans or kill them themselves. But it is important to note, that side by side to these stories, there were a few Ukrainian and Polish families in the area that gave shelter to dozens of Jews while jeopardizing their own lives. One of these stories is of a Ukrainian farmer named Bruduvay who helped in preparing a hideout in which 13 Jews were hidden under his protection.

The first half of 1943 was characterized by sporadic killings. In April the wave of executions grew bigger. At the same time, the area of the ghetto was substantially reduced, the security grew tighter, and getting out of the ghetto was permitted in groups only escorted by German and Ukrainian policemen who did not trust the Jewish policemen this time. The remains of the community knew their death was closer.

At the beginning of May 1943, the possibility of active resistance to the Germans was discussed among the Judenrat members and the Jewish police. On May 15 1943 a meeting took place of the Judenrat with a few members of the Jewish police. The decision was to purchase arms and to send armed groups to the forest. Some of the young people that were sent to the forests to check the option to such an operation came back to the ghetto after facing difficulties. The Germans apparently heard of these attempts to organized resistance and so on June 6 1943 they gathered the members of the Jewish police and murdered them all. Their bodies were presented to discourage those who were still alive from the community from any type of resistance. A few hours later, the ghetto annihilation started. The Germans and the Ukrainians put the ghetto houses on fire and threw grenades inside. Those who were caught were brought to pits which were made a day before near the new cemetery on the way to Parnuvke, next to the monastery, where the slaughter went on for three days until June 9 1943. Some of the victims, especially the children, were not shot, they were buried alive.

In the next few weeks the hunt for hiding Jews continued, during which bunkers were found. Three of these bunkers were known by their builders as “Stalingrad”, “Svestopol” and “Leningrad” as symbols to the strongholds against the German army in the Soviet front. These bunkers were equipped with food supplies for a long period of time, and around 60 people were found in one of them. But these hideouts were exposed because of informers, and German sources reported of armed resistance in one of them.

During the first half of 1944 Jews were murdered in the forests surrounding Rohatyn by nationalistic Ukrainian group called “Bandera”.

When the city was freed by the Soviets on July 24 1944, around 30 Jews gathered, including those from the surrounding villages. A few of the Ukrainians, who participated in the murders under the German occupation, were arrested with the help of the survivors.

Most of the survivors left Rohatyn.


Sources[2]:

 

Translator's footnotes
  1. Pinkas Hakehilot says December 8 1941, but according to other sources and according to the chronological order of the events described, it was 1942. Return
  2. Dates are in the format DD.MM.YYYYReturn


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