The first historical document referencing Jews in Rohatyn dates back to 1463. It mentions Szymszon of Żydaczów, who was involved in cattle trade at the local market. In the years 1447-1467, Szymszon was the richest merchant in the town. The first information about permanent Jewish residents of Rohatyn dates back to 1564, but the Jewish community remained very small until the end of the 16th century. It was subordinate to the Jewish community in Lviv. In 1582, Mendel Isakowicz leased the right to collect tax on the sale of alcohol in Rohatyn.
In 1663, King Władysław IV granted municipal rights to Jews, including the right to settle, set up a cemetery, and build a synagogue. Jews gained trading rights equal to those enjoyed by Christians. By virtue of the obtained privileges, Jewish inhabitants of Rohatyn could run inns, sell alcohol, trade in cattle, etc. They also received the right to produce vodka and to trade at the market. Over time, they were also granted the right to buy houses around the market square. In 1669, the privileges were confirmed by King Michał Korybut Wiśniowiecki. Rohatyn did not have its own deputy at the Council of Four Lands; the town was represented by the deputy from Lviv. In the second half of the 17th century, smaller Jewish communities started to gain independence from the Lviv kehillah. In 1720, Rohatyn had its own representative at the assembly of the Ruthenian local government in Kuligów. His name was Cwi Hirsch.
In the 17th century, Jews from Lviv started to migrate to smaller towns, including Rohatyn. What propelled these migrations was the promise of lesser competition and greater opportunities for economic development. Thanks to this influx of newcomers, an independent Jewish community was established in Rohatyn. It owned a wooden synagogue and its own cemetery and soon became an important centre of religious learning. In 1693, Mojżesz ben Daniel of Rohatyn published the work entitled Sugiot ha-Talmud (“Questions from the Talmud”) in Żółkiew (Zhovkva). The book was reprinted in Germany in 1707 and translated into Latin. One of the first rabbis of the town was Abraham Leibers, son of Rabbi Zalman Leibers from Lviv. In the mid-18th century, the function of the rabbi of Rohatyn was performed by Dawid Mosze Abraham, also known as Adam, an opponent of the Frankists, author of many manuscripts (his first printed work was not published until 1892). The other rabbis of Rohatyn before the Partitions of Poland were Abraham Szlomo and Icchak ben Aharon. In 1765, Rohatyn was inhabited by 797 Jews. The Jewish kehillah had 1,374 members, as it had jurisdiction over the Jewish population of the villages of Podkamien (128 people) and Stratyn (453).
In the 18th century, the community became divided due to the emergence of diverging religious movements. The first prominent proponent of the Sabbatean movement in the town was Elisza Szor, a descendant of the famous Rabbi Zalman Naftali Szor. Apart from the Szor dynasty, other important Sabbateans were Jehuda Lejb, Note Krysa of Nadvirna and Kabbalist Mosze Dawid of Pidhajci. Their activities converted Rohatyn into one of the most important centres of the Sabbatean movement outside Podolia. In the second half of the 18th century, Frankism also gained a considerable number of followers. In 1755, the already mentioned Elisza Szor, together with Nachman of Busk, went to Turkey to meet with Jacob Frank. He convinced Frank to go on a tour around Poland (the so-called chavur). One of the places he visited was Rohatyn (in June-August 1757). At the end of 1757, the Frankists fled to Turkey. Their departure was brought about by the death of their protector, Bishop of Kamieniec Podolski Tadeusz Mikołaj Dembowski. He was the organiser of the first debate in Kamieniec, during which Elisza Szor spoke as the main representative of Frankists. After fleeing to Turkey, Szor was arrested and ended up dying in prison. In 1759, several dozen Frankists converted to Christianity. On 12 November 1759, Szlomo Szor, son of Elisza Szor, was baptised in Lviv and took on the name Franciszek Łukasz Wołowski. In 1839, the Wołowski family was ennobled and granted the Bawół coat of arms. One of the members of the dynasty was Jan Kanty Wołowski, Chief Justice Officer of the Kingdom of Poland, first Dean of the Faculty of Law and Administration at the Main School of Warsaw (Szkoła Główna Warszawska). He died in exile, having been expelled from the country for supporting the January Uprising.
In 1772, after the First Partition of Poland, Rohatyn was incorporated into Austria. During the reign of Emperor Joseph II, the authorities sought to regulate the economic and legal status of Jews. Attempts were made to turn them into land cultivators. A colony called the New Babylon was established in the vicinity of Bolechów. Twelve families from Rohatyn moved to the new establishment. The Austrian authorities also sought to assimilate Jews into the society. They were forbidden to wear traditional costumes, were ordered to speak German, and forced to accept German names. All Jewish children were obliged to attend school. A Jewish school inspectorate was appointed, headed by the Czech maskil (scholar) Herc Homberg. Within several years, he founded about 100 schools, among them a secular German-language school in Rohatyn, opened in 1788 and headed by Szlomo Kornfeld.
The Hasidic movement reached Rohatyn in the early 19th century and soon gained significant influence on the life of the local Jewish community. The Stratyn dynasty had the biggest number of followers, but the tzaddikim from Ruzhyn and Belz also enjoyed considerable esteem in the town. Another major movement shaping the Jewish worldview was the Haskalah, which did not have many supporters among the Jews of Rohatyn. Most of the supporters of the Haskalah were inhabitants of large urban centres, such as Lviv or Brody. The Jewish community of Rohatyn gave greater importance to economic matters than to the promotion of secular education among Jews. The most important issue for the Jewish population was the fight against high taxes imposed on Jews. In 1819, a conflict broke out between the Jews of Rohatyn and tax collector Tomasz Sobeński. The case went all the way to Vienna. In 1830, Benjamin Wunderlich became the new chairman of the Jewish kehillah, but he was not accepted by the entire community.
In the second half of the 19th century, the economic situation of the Rohatyn Jews began to improve. In 1852, the construction of the Halych-Tarnopol railway line was completed, which opened the way for the town to become a part of the nationwide economic system. Jews began establishing small factories, wineries, breweries, mills, brickworks, printing houses. At the time, a small group of very affluent people emerged in Rohatyn. Among them was the Nagelberg family – the descendants of Rabbi Adam. Jews also made their living from servicing the railway, as well as from petty trade and crafts. According to the census carried out by a credit union in 1913, 590 Jews from Rohatyn were merchants, 42 were craftsmen, 19 were farmers, and 44 worked in liberal professions (lawyers, accountants, etc.). Jewish credit unions and charity organisations began to emerge. In 1906, the I.C.A Credit Society was established. By 1908, it had as many as 385 members and had granted 346 loans for the total amount of 71,425 kronen.
One of the most prominent rabbis serving in Rohatyn under the Austrian rule was Eliezar Horowic, chief rabbi of the town in the years 1866-1868. At the beginning of the 1870s, Majer Yehuda Lejb Glass took on the post of the rabbi and held it until his death in 1894. In 1896, Natan Lewin became the rabbi of Rohatyn. He was fluent in Polish and German and knew how to reconcile ultra-Orthodox Jews with assimilationists. Lewin was influenced by the Zionist movement and supported the establishment of Hebrew schools. In 1905, he was appointed rabbi of Rzeszów. After his departure, no new rabbi was elected; the function was instead entrusted to two judges (dayanim): Meir Szmuel Hennie from Strzelisk and Abraham Dawid Spiegl.
The 19th century saw the gradual improvement of the situation of Jews, who were gaining more and more rights equal to those enjoyed by the rest of the society. The most significant period for these social transformations were the times of the Galician autonomy. In 1868, 18 Roman Catholics, 7 Greek Catholics, and 7 Jews were elected to the 32-member Town Council. The Jewish councillors were leading maskilim, including Samuel Ostern, Lejb Wajdman, Samuel Holder, and Markus Nagelberg. On 20 February 1868, Ostern presented the following proposal to the Council: “The Jewish community in Rohatyn manages a large capital and earns income from various sources, including contributions, pledges, and assets owned by its leaders; they, however, do not report to the Town Council and therefore nobody knows what they are doing. The synagogue, whose construction started a year ago, is still awaiting completion. If they continue at this pace, this sacred building is going to collapse. Despite the fact that large sums are constantly collected for the purchase of graves, the cemetery still remains unfenced. The bathhouse, which is supposedly maintained from the collected sum of 300 florins, can collapse at any moment. There are no registers of Torah and Megillot scrolls; their maintenance is the responsibility of the caretaker of the synagogue, whom nobody supervises. According to Article 93 of the town’s ordinance, the town has the right to supervise special matters concerning the Jewish community. I therefore believe that the Town Council should from now on strictly supervise the administrative issues which have so far been handled by the leaders of the Jewish community. To this end, there should be appointed a Supervisory Committee composed of three councillors, whose task would be to supervise the operation of the community in all respects, including the signing of all documents, official or otherwise, the establishment of accounts, the registration of immovable property, and, from time to time, reporting to the Town Council on the activity of the community and providing necessary criticism.” Ostern's proposal was undoubtedly radical, considering that its implementation would effectively deprive the Jewish community of its autonomy. Nevertheless, the motion was unanimously approved by the Town Council, and maskilim Weidmann, Holder and Nagelberg were appointed members of the Supervisory Committee. The final resolution, however, was contested by higher-level authorities. On 19 November 1869, the Ministry of the Interior ruled that the resolution was incompatible with state law.
Towards the end of the 19th century, the Zionist movement started to emerge in Rohatyn. The first Zionist in the town was Shalom Melcer (1871-1909); he founded the local branch of B’nei Zion (Sons of Zion). In 1898, the organisation had 100 members. Even the aforementioned Rabbi Lewin joined the ranks of Zionists, although he would still give official ‘pro-German’ speeches on holidays. In 1894, the representatives of Rohatyn took part in the Ahavat Zion congress, and in 1898 – in the Zionist Congress in Stanisławów (Ivano-Frankivsk). Szalom Melzer participated in the first Mizrachi conference in Pressburg (present-day Bratislava) in 1904. In 1907, women's Zionist group ‘Rut’ was established in Rohatyn.
In the years 1904-1910, Alter Weidmann was the chairman of the community. A new synagogue was erected in the town during his term. The decorative wall paintings adorning the building were some of the most beautiful in Galicia. Weidmann contributed to the establishment of a free Hebrew school headed by Rafał Soferman, opened in 1904. In 1907, a Ukrainian lower secondary school was opened in Rohatyn. Its Polish counterpart was established in 1910. Both schools were attended by Jews. Until the beginning of the 20th century, there was only one general primary school in Rohatyn. Jewish children attended a cheder – it was not until the times of Lewin’s rabbinate that a modern Talmud-Torah school was opened. Some of the representatives of the Jewish intelligentsia who received academic education were physicians Siegfried Schaff and Maurice Stein, as well as lawyers Maurice Lipner, Józef Weidmann, Pinchas Scharf, Herman Zahnhauser, Ferdinand Katz, Samuel Schoder, Oswald Klugman, and Maurice Fichmann.
In 1880, Rohatyn was inhabited by 5,101 people, including 3,035 Jews (59.5%). In 1890, the town had 7,188 inhabitants living in 914 houses, including 3,503 Jews (48.8%). In 1900, there were 931 houses and 7,201 inhabitants, including 3,217 Jews (44.7%). In 1910, according to the last census carried out by the Austrian authorities before World War I, there were 7,664 people living in Rohatyn, 3,254 of whom were Jews (ca. 42.4%). The number of Jewish residents of Rohatyn grew with the general population increase, but the percentage they constituted began to decrease – from 59.5% in 1880 to 42% in 1910. In 1880, there were 2,397 Jews living in 89 villages of the Rohatyn District (19% of the entire population). In 1890, this number rose to 2,434 Jews (17.2%). In 1900, it fell to 2,070 (15.4%).
Even before the outbreak of World War I many Jews left Rohatyn and travelled to Austria, where they were assembled in evacuation camps located, among other areas, in the Czech and Moravian territories. Most people migrated to Vienna. In August 1914, Russian troops entered Rohatyn and set fire to the Jewish quarter. They also arrested 570 male Jews of all ages, from children to old people. They were all deported to Russia. In June 1915, the Austrian army recaptured the town. In the years 1917-1918, Jews began to return to Rohatyn and started to rebuild their houses. In 1918, a Jewish hospital was opened, but it was closed down soon afterwards. In the short period of its activity, it provided treatment to wounded Jewish soldiers and people suffering from infectious diseases.
According to the first census carried out in the Second Polish Republic (1921), 5,736 people lived in Rohatyn, including 2,223 Jews, who constituted 38.7% of the population. In the interwar period, the economic situation of the local Jewish population deteriorated as a result of both the economic crisis and the competition from Ukrainians and Poles. In the 1930s, many merchants and entrepreneurs went bankrupt, while craftsmen and workers were unable to find employment. Twenty butchers lost their jobs at the end of the 1930s, after the introduction of administrative restrictions on ritual slaughter.
At the time, only several small Jewish enterprises operated in the town, among them a confectionery plant, two printing houses, a soda factory, and a mill. Among the craftsmen able to earn their living were 10 tailors, 5 hairdressers, 8 shoemakers, 6 carpenters, a saddler, 3 builders, and 6 watchmakers. The local intelligentsia comprised several Jewish doctors, lawyers and teachers. In early 1930, a charity fund was established in Rohatyn. In 1936, it provided loans to 58 craftsmen, 92 small merchants, 13 workers, and 51 other persons. The total amount of money loaned that year reached 10,904 zloty. Apart from the charity fund, there was also a cooperative loan fund in the town. In the 1930s, a public eatery was opened; it gave out free meals to the poorest residents. It was financed by donations from people who had migrated to the United States.
At the time, the community rebuilt the synagogue destroyed during the war and purchased land for a new cemetery. In 1932, at the young age of 27, Mordechaj Lipa Teumim became the rabbi of Rohatyn. Only one Jewish party participated in the municipal elections. In 1927, after reaching an agreement with Poles and Ukrainians, it received 16 out of 48 seats. Doctor Goldschlag was elected deputy mayor. In 1932 and 1939, Jews were not elected to the municipal authorities, and only held some administrative posts.
In the years 1910-1930, Doctor Pinchas Stern was the leader of the Rohatyn Zionists, the largest percentage of whom supported the General Zionists. In 1919, a local branch of Hashomer Hatzair was founded. There were also branches of Poale Zion and Hitachdut (with its youth wing, Gordonia) in the town. Poale Zion controlled the local Jewish trade union, which was responsible for a strike organised at one of the printing houses. The end of the 1920s saw the establishment of a branch of HaNoar HaTzioni, while branches of the Zionist Revisionists and the Mizrachi started their activities in 1930. In the 1930s, Akiba and Betar, whose popularity skyrocketed right after its foundation, joined the ranks of the numerous local Zionist organisations of Rohatyn.
In the interwar period, the following houses of prayer were active in Rohatyn: the Great Synagogue, the Small Tailors’ Shul, The Small Little Cobblers’ Shul, the Great Beth Midrash, the Small Beth Midrash (Beth Medrash Shabse Tzvinekes), the Czortków Hasidim kloyz, the Stratyn Hasidim kloyz, the Żydaczów Hasidim kloyz and several others, as well as a cheder and a mikveh. Unlike the Jews, Ukrainians and Poles had one temple each – an Orthodox church and a Roman-Catholic church.
According to the 1931 census, there were 7,513 people living in Rohatyn, including 3,002 Jews; 6,111 Jews lived in the entire district. In 1939, the Jewish population of the town amounted to 3,250 people (40.1%), with 9,685 Jews living in the entire district.
During the Soviet occupation (1939-1941) Jewish institutions were dissolved and political activity was banned. Due to the restrictions imposed on private enterprises, the economic situation of Jews quickly deteriorated. Some were deported to distant regions of the Soviet Union (paradoxically, this allowed most of them to survive the Holocaust). However, the Soviet repressions were directed primarily against the Polish population – one of the largest mass murders perpetrated by the Soviets on Polish soldiers and civilians took place in Rohatyn.
After the Nazi invasion of the USSR, Germans entered Rohatyn on 2 or 5 July 1941 (depending on the source). The town was incorporated into the District of Galicia, which became part of the General Government on 1 August 1941. Germans immediately started to persecute the Jewish population. Their arrival was accompanied by the attack of the Ukrainian police on Jews, carried out on 6 July 1941. On 9 July, Germans carried out an operation aimed at intimidating the Jewish population of the town. Leading representatives of the community were severely beaten; among them were Szlomo Amarant, Doctor Friwald, Doctor Goldschlag, Rotbaum, Rabbi Teumim, and Spiegel. Jews were forced to do humiliating, hard work, such as cleaning public spaces and repairing roads.
At the end of July 1941, a Judenrat was established in Rohatyn, with Szlomo Amarant as its chairman. Among regular members were Friwald, Goldschlag, Gotword, Hochberg, Rozensztajn, M. Kac, and representatives of refugees. A Jewish police unit was recruited from former members of the Maccabi sports club, headed by Waintraub, a goalkeeper. Jews were forced to mark their clothes with the Star of David. At the end of August, all Jews were ordered to move to a designated area of the town, which was transformed into a ghetto. In the first winter after the establishment of the ghetto, at the turn of 1941 and 1942, people living within its confines suffered great hunger. Children and the elderly were particularly susceptible to the effects of food shortages and thus many of them died of starvation.
The first extermination ‘Aktion’ took place on 20 March 1942. Germans drove Jews out of their houses and gathered them at the market square, where they ordered all of them to kneel down. Jews were then forced to stay kneeling for hours, completely motionless. Many of them froze to death. Then, right before taking the gathered Jews to the execution site, Germans shot Rabbi Spiegel. In the last moments before his death, he raised his voice and began to say the Shema Yisrael prayer, which was then picked up by the crowd. He did not stop even while being beaten. According to various data, some 1,820 to 3,000 people were taken from the market square to a site near the railway station in Rohatyn, where they were executed next to the previously dug ditches. The operation was carried out by a unit of the Einstzkommando and the Gestapo from Stanisławów under the command of Kuger. According to some sources, a group of Jews was deported to the German Nazi death camp in Bełżec. After these events, the area of the ghetto was reduced by half.
The second ‘Aktion’ took place on 21-22 September 1942. It was conducted by the Gestapo unit from Tarnopol. Ca. 300 people were killed near the hospital in Rohatyn. According to various sources, between 700 and 1,700 people were transported to the German Nazi death camp in Bełżec.
In 1942, Jews from Bukaczowce, Bursztyn, Bołszowce, and other localities of the district were resettled to the ghetto in Rohatyn. In October 1942, a group of Jewish craftsmen was transported to Stanisławów.
The third ‘Aktion’ in Rohatyn took place on 8 December 1942, once again under the command of the Gestapo unit from Tarnopol. According to the accounts of those who survived, ca. 2,000 Jews were murdered during the operation. Germans shot 250 to 500 people near the hospital and sent 1,300-1,400 to the Bełżec camp.
In the winter of 1943, a typhus epidemic broke out in the ghetto. According to the account of B. S. Arsen, half of the ghetto’s population died. The ill in hospital beds were shot by a Gestapo officer, Hermann.
The fourth ‘Aktion,’ taking place on 6-9 June 1943, was aimed at exterminating the remaining inhabitants of the ghetto. From 2,700 up to even 6,000 Jews were murdered in the operation. The Gestapo unit from Lviv shot most of the ghetto prisoners, but many were burned alive in underground shelters called ‘Stalingrad,’ ‘Sevastopol’ and ‘Leningrad,’ which were meant to be used during a planned uprising in the Jewish district.
The total number of Jews who at some point resided in the Rohatyn Ghetto is estimated at about 12,000. 9,846 people lost their lives in the town itself, while 2,100 were sent to the German Nazi death camp in Bełżec. Among the victims were almost all of the members of the Jewish community of Rohatyn (ca. 4,200 people, including refugees) and ca. 4,000 people from other localities in the district.
Rohatyn was seized by the Red Army on 23 July 1944. At the end of the 1980s, some attempts were made to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust. In 1987, a commemorative plaque was placed near the train station. It contained information on the number of people killed during the war, but did not specify their nationality. In 1998, a new monument was erected in the town. It bears inscriptions in three languages (Ukrainian, English, and Hebrew). Plaques and monuments were also placed at the former seat of the Judenrat and in the northern part of the town, opposite the municipal park.
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