A visit to Rozhnyatov

by Thomas F. Weiss


The following describes a trip to Europe my wife, Aurice, and I took in which we made a two-day side trip to Rozhnyatov. The purpose of this preamble is to put the side trip to Rozhnyatov in context and to introduce the people mentioned in the journal below. The trip was organized through ShtetlSchleppers of JewishGen with special thanks to Joanna Fletcher, who made the arrangements, and to Joyce Field, who led the group tour in Lviv. I kept a detailed journal of the trip and the section below represents the journal for the days we were in Rozhnyatov.

The trip began on Tuesday, September 5, 2000 when Aurice and I flew to Vienna, the city in which my mother (Erna Frenkel) and my uncle (Walter Frenkel) were born and in which my maternal grandparents (Max and Clothilde Frenkel) were married and had lived. We visited all the addresses where my grandparents lived as their fortunes improved after moving to Vienna from Galicia. My grandmother died before the Anschluss, but my grandfather was not so fortunate. We visited the sites to which he moved after his apartment building was Aryanized and before he was deported to Riga from which he never returned.

On Saturday, September 9, we took the train from Vienna to Krakow. We toured Krakow and visited both Auschwitz and Birkenau where at least 10 of my family members met their fate. We joined a number of people from JewishGen in Krakow, including Joanna Fletcher, Susan King, and Joyce Field. On Thursday, September 14, the group was expanded to include Mike Kalt Lviv and Steve Rockower. Alex Dunai drove the group to Lviv where we arrived on Thursday evening. There the group was joined by Robin O'Neil. With Alex acting as guide, we toured Lviv on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday the group split up. Alex, Aurice, and I drove directly to Buchach to see that town and to examine the Jewish cemetery. Much of Monday was spend cleaning stones and photographing them. The portion of trip in Buchach is described elsewhere. On Tuesday and on Wednesday, the three of us visited Rozhnyatov and activities of those two days are related below. We spent Sunday through Tuesday night in Ivano-Frankivsk at the Auscoprot Hotel formerly called the Roxolana Hotel. On Wednesday, we returned to Lviv for the farewell banquet. On Thursday we returned to Buchach to work on photographing more of the cemetery and returned at night to Lviv. On Friday, September 22 we flew to Warsaw and we returned to Boston on Monday, September 25. Throughout the trip in Lviv and the small towns, Alex Dunai acted as our guide, translator, and friend.

On the trip to Rozhnyatov I had available: aerial photographs of the town which showed the cemetery (left hand side) as it appeared in 1944; a sketch of the cemetery drawn by Rabbi Kolesnik (of Ivano-Frankivsk) some years ago and made available to me by my cousin Tovia Frazer. I also had some photographs of gravestones of possible relevance to my family taken by Rabbi Kolesnik. Finally, I had a copy of a map of the town from the Yizkor book for Rozhnyatov as well as copies of pictures of the town from the Yizkor book. My intention was to try to find and to photograph all these sites. I also intended to photograph as many gravestones as possible.

N.B. Some of the links are marked with "still" and "video" in parentheses. Clicking on "still" will bring up a still photograph and clicking on "video" will bring up a brief video clip. However, even these brief video clips take a long time to download --- several minutes with a cable modem and who knows how long with a phone line connection to the internet. The size of the video file is indicated in square brackets. Knowledge of the file transfer rate for a connection to the web allows estimation of the time taken to download the video. In order to view the videos, your browser must have a video viewer. In order to view the videos, your web browser must have a video viewer. The videos require Quick Time reader available free of charge. Just download the software and install it in your computer. With QuickTime 4 installed, the videos appear in a window with controls that resembles a VCR control panel with play, pause, stop, and single frame controls.

Tuesday, September 19, 2000

I was up at 4am to charge batteries for the various devices needed for the day's adventures. I went back to bed but could not go back to sleep so I got up and worked on the journal. Breakfast was buffet style this morning. Something was wrong in the kitchen and the fried eggs were in a hot tray but were cold. But the rest of the stuff --- including meat, cheese, vegetables, etc. --- was fine. The coffee was good as usual. We were joined by Joyce Field and later by Robin O'Neil --- Joyce very bubbly, Robin very English. The others headed out for their adventures at 8:30am. We left at 9am with Alex driving. We had the usually wide-ranging discussion with Alex. One of the things we learned is that land is still not yet privatized in Ukraine.

We arrived in Rozhnyatov at 10am after taking the obligatory photograph of the town sign with the town name in Cyrillic. First, we drove through the town to have a quick look around. The first impression is that this town is quite different from Buchach --- not as depressed as Buchach. People look more prosperous and happy. The buildings look relatively new and relatively clean. Then we went to find the Jewish cemetery. Alex found a Ukrainian gentleman, Igor Koronowky, along the way and he led us to the cemetery and stayed with us in the cemetery. Igor was well dressed in a nice leather jacket and was very pleasant. He spoke no English and no German so we had to rely on Alex for communications. Igor and I walked down a small muddy path to reach the cemetery; Alex and Aurice drove the car down the dirt road. It turned out that Igor has a daughter in Philadelphia. Amazing! When we arrived at the northeast corner of the cemetery there was a trash pile and an old lady picking trash. The path, which is east of the cemetery, intersected a larger road that ran north of the cemetery (see the schematic diagram).

To get an overview, I walked around the whole cemetery with my video camera running. Coming from the road to the north of the cemetery, we entered the old part of the cemetery which we identified from the sketch drawn by Rabbi Kolesnik. The old part of the cemetery (see still1 and still2 or video [25Mb]) lies in the north east corner of the cemetery and is surrounded by an embankment on all four sides. The area is only sparsely populated by gravestones which are all in Hebrew and many are barely legible without cleaning. Immediately to the west of the old part of the cemetery is a field which contains many mounds. Investigating the mounds suggests that each of these mounds may be a buried gravestone. In some spots you can see a gravestone seemingly about to be swallowed up by the earth. These mounds are seen throughout the cemetery, but they are the only structures seen in the region just to the west of the old part of the cemetery. A wall of a factory makes up the western boundary of the cemetery. The newer part of the cemetery is south of the old part and away from the road. In the most southern portion of the new cemetery some names on stones are in Latin letters although most of the writing is in Hebrew. The most southern border of the cemetery is a barbed wire fence. However, there are a few gravestones on the other side of the fence in a plot that contains a garden and a small field that is used to graze two cows.

Throughout the cemetery, the gravestones are in worse shape than in Buchach and they look both more disturbed and more disturbing. The stones are at odd angles --- helter skelter. All the stones appear to be inscribed with Hebrew letters with the exception of a few that contain names in Latin letters. Many of the inscriptions are very hard to read. While I was walking around the cemetery, I was watched by some people standing along the wall of the factory adjoining the cemetery. They must have wondered what the crazy American was doing. The cemetery which was sopping wet, contained some old tires and some garbage but not as bad as Buchach. The cemetery is roughly the same size as Buchach and must contain more than 500 gravestones. The gravestones with Latin letters included the names: Chane Filler, Taube Reinhard, Redish, Hillman, Rosenberg, Strassman, Pinie Rechtschaffen, Chaim Stern, Katz, Shwalb, Joseph Hochtung, Geller, Bendet Berger, Weinfeld, Lehrfeld, Hillman, Wolf Hoffman, Scheincie Kassner, Ryfka Finkelstein. I saw no names of my family members --- Fruchter and Frankel. Igor said he had heard that after the war graves were dug up by people looking for gold. That may explain the state of the stones and perhaps the many mounds which we think may be toppled stones that have been overgrown. We asked Igor if the gold diggers found anything. He said not in Rozhnyatov. It was apparently believed by some people that all Jews were rich and were buried with their riches. In Dolina cemeteries, the grave diggers did find jewelry in graves. Igor said that there were no Jews in Rozhnyatov and that the last Jew left for Israel 5 years ago. His daughter still lives in the town and he knows where she lives; she is under 40 years old. Apparently, he did not regard her as a Jew. Igor thought that two or three families survived the war in Rozhnyatov. Alex asked Igor whether there were any old buildings left in Rozhnyatov. He said there were none. Those that survived the war were taken down after the war. He said there are 3,500-4,000 citizens of Rozhnyatov at the present time.

We developed a strategy to first find and clean up the gravestones for which I had pictures and that may be those of family members. Then we will do others. I got out our map of the cemetery with the designation of the gravestones. We decided that we would buy a wire brush to clean up the gravestones. So we decided to go into town. It was a market day and Alex felt we would find a brush in the market. We video taped the walk in the market. There were lots of merchants and shoppers in the market. There were great looking wursts for sale, and all kinds of veggies, tools, clothing, loose tobacco, etc. We clearly stood out and people looked at us with interest. My cameras attracted a good deal of attention. It was a very large market with lots of activity and a distinct improvement over the small market in Buchach. We did not find a wire brush in the market so we headed back to the car.

We drove into a town lot and parked. We went into a general store which consisted of a series of stalls carrying different items. It seemed to be a conglomerate of little stores. We bought a wire brush in the hardware department. One wall separating stalls had several large Britney Spears posters. Amazing! We asked if there was a map of present day Rozhnyatov. There was none in the general store but we were told that one might be available in the post office. So Alex and I walked over to the post office but there were no maps available. On the way back to the car, Alex initiated conversations with older looking people trying to get them to tell us where the old Jewish houses were located. One of these fellows said he could show us where they were and followed us back to the car. I discovered he spoke a bit of broken German. When we got back to the car he asked if we had any schnapps after which we dubbed him schnapps man. Alex said this was a common problem --- alcoholism. Alex and Aurice went into a municipal building to see if they could find a bathroom. While they were gone, I tried to have a conversation with schnapps man. He pointed out a few old buildings that he claimed had been owned by Jewish merchants before the war but had been thoroughly refurbished. That was all that was left of the old town. I asked him what had happened to the Jews in town and he said they had been shot. He seemed genuinely upset by this, but it was not clear how much of his mood could be attributed to alcohol. I think he was working hard to get some money or some liquor from me. He seemed surprised to find that I did not have any schnapps with me. Eventually, Aurice and Alex returned. They had tried to find a bathroom in the municipal office building but the people who had the key to the bathroom were out to lunch so the bathroom was unavailable. We left schnapps man and got back in the car.

We tried to find a coffee house without success. Finally, Alex found a grocery store that had a bathroom. The woman in the store spoke a bit of German. The bathroom was disgusting. There was no toilet paper; only small pieces of newspaper in a stack. The used newspaper was in a box on the floor. Yetch! When we got out, Alex said that the three biggest problems in Ukraine were political corruption, alcoholism, and bathrooms. He felt that the bathroom problem was the easiest to solve. We discussed the bathroom problem at length. Why was this such a problem. Alex said that the bathroom problem was at least partly idealogical --- only capitalists have fancy bathrooms.

After driving around Rozhnyatov and thinking through everything that we had been told we concluded: there are no old buildings left in town; almost all the buildings are new (i.e., post-WWII); a few buildings are old but completely refurbished. Nothing remains of the old Rozhnyatov. We looked for the Calm Lake, of which there is a picture in the Yizkor Book but could not find it. Later we found out from Rosalia (see below) that the calm lake is gone. It has apparently been filled in. The only things that remain from the pre-WWII town is the cemetery and the river. On the other hand, Rozhnyatov looks more affluent and prosperous than Buchach. The houses are in better shape. People are dressed better. There is less trash around. The market is filled with people and is busy. There are lots of goods for sale and business is brisk.

Alex bought sandwiches for lunch and we had some mineral water. We went back to the cemetery and got out the sketch of the cemetery as well as the pictures of gravestones that Tovia Frazer had obtained from Rabbi Kolesnik. We located all the stones in the sketch. We then went about cleaning the stones. It was hard to read some of them. Alex said that rubbing red brick over the stone improves the contrast. Alex disappeared to find some red brick. When he returned he tried the red brick technique and it worked rather well. We marked the gravestones by attaching a piece of bright tape that I had brought for the purpose. In walking around the cemetery we noted again the large number of mounds with no stone showing. After palpating the mounds we decided that most of these were buried gravestone. So there are many gravestones that are not visible but are presumably there. We eventually marked, cleaned, and photographed all the gravestones indicated in Rabbi Kolesnik's sketch.

When that task was completed, we tried to make a map of the cemetery. We walked around the perimeter of the old cemetery first; it is separated by a ridge from the rest of the cemetery. Then we walked around the rest of the cemetery. We stopped at key locations, took video and recorded the coordinates using the Global Position System (GPS) receiver. It took more than an hour to complete this job. This is a test to determine if we can map an area as small as the cemetery with a GPS receiver. The mapping project was recorded on video tape. [The resulting map came out better than anticipated at the time and compares favorably with aerial photographs of the cemetery.]

As we were walking around taking measurements, there was a lady working in a garden adjoining the cemetery. Pretty soon she came over to see what was going on. She said "good day and let god help you," which Alex informed us was a common greeting. She had a lot that she seemed to want to tell us.. We learned that she is Polish, is 75-years old, has one daughter named Lila, has lived in the same lot adjoining the cemetery since before WWII, and that her name is Rosalia Yagelovitch Rebega. Her house and all the others on the street were burned down by the Germans. She told us that there had been beautiful marble gravestones in the cemetery but that these had been stolen. The cemetery used to be much larger and had a wooden fence around it. She claimed that the cemetery looks similar to the way it always had except that it was smaller now. We asked her about the names of Jewish families in town. She could not remember Fruchters but she did remember a general store by a Frankel family in town. She remembered the Turteltaub family. She said Turteltaub had a store in town. She could not remember first names. She said that she was a kid and grown ups and kids did not communicate as well then as they do now. She said that all the houses were burned down and the streets have been changed. There were many Jews and they were all transported to Dolina and murdered there. There were no mass murders in Rozhnyatov. We asked if there were any old houses left in town and she talked about some of the houses we had seen which have been refurbished. The synagogue is gone and there is a theater in that spot. We asked about the calm lake and she said that is gone as well. She was a charming lady and very gracious. All three of us enjoyed meeting her.

We returned to mapping the cemetery. As we were working in the southern part of the cemetery (further away from the road), we encountered a couple working their field. They watched us but did not come over to chat. In the corner of the cemetery adjoining the fence of the factory next door, there are gravestones piled up. It looks like uprooted stones were used to brace the fence. We completed the map and left the cemetery at 4:15pm.

We drove into town to see the Duba river which runs on the west side of the town. We took some video of the river. We drove back to Ivano-Frankivsk. We stopped to look at the former synagogue in town which is now an officer's club. We left at 6pm to have dinner. We drove around town a bit and then went to the same restaurant we were at last night. Alex asked about service and they explained that it was slow last night because they had a large party come in. It was not going to be a problem tonight. The meal was good, but the service was very, very slow again and we did not get out until 9pm. Alex was shaking his head and apologizing for the long delay.

Wednesday, September 20, 2000

We got up a bit late at 6:30am although packing will not be a big chore since we hardly unpacked. Unfortunately, it is raining hard. I had wanted to do three things today: (1) Get a picture of one of those relatively illegible stones and use image processing techniques to do contrast enhancement. Do the red brick trick on the same stone and photograph it again. This will test if the red brick method in fact helps significantly in contrast enhancement. It seems to. (2) Then I was thinking that we would take pictures of the stones that are clearly legible in the new part of the cemetery focusing on those that are surnames of group members. (3) If there were time I would like to map, at least crudely, the Buchach cemetery.

We went in for breakfast and it was a buffet again which is not quite as good as the first morning where they cooked things to order. There was only apple juice this morning. I asked about getting some cooked eggs and discovered that the waiter spoke very little English and gave a stony stare which I learned to recognize; it is followed by no action. This morning there were no jams; the choice was mayonnaise, sour cream, and ketchup to go with the breakfast food. There was the usual collection of meats --- several kinds of ham, salami, etc. These are quite tasty and you get them everywhere. There was also a nondescript cheese. Alex and Steve Coe (from the Justice Department) joined us for breakfast. Steve is doing some successful work in the archives and finds the Ukrainians very helpful and forthcoming in his research. They make almost everything available that is requested by the US Justice Department. We were about ready to leave when Alex came running in to tell us that there was another couple in the breakfast room who had an interest in Buchach. So I went to see them. They are Robert and Ann Kolber. I sat down and talked with them briefly. Bob is interested in participating in the project of photographing all the gravestones in Buchach. He is very enthusiastic about the project. I told him to join the Buchach group in SRRG. We agreed to talk further in Lviv tonight.

We left some time after 9am and got to the Rozhnyatov cemetery at 10:15am. It was raining pretty hard so we waited for it to stop for 15 minutes and it didn't so we went out anyway. Aurice stayed in the car and Alex and I walked to the farthest reaches of the new portion of the cemetery where there are 3 solitary gravestones in the property of a farmer. The Ukrainian farmer and his wife and two cows were in the lot in the pouring rain. I decided to take a picture of the farmer, his cows, and the gravestones in the background when I discovered that the smart card (used to store digital images) was still in my laptop and so there was no mechanism of taking pictures and storing them in the digital camera. So we walked back to the car and I got the smart card out of the computer and put it into the camera and we trudged back to the back to the cemetery into the farmers grazing area and he, his wife, and the cows were gone. So we started to take pictures of gravestones. Our aim was to take as many pictures of legible gravestones as possible and a few illegible ones to test image processing schemes for enhancing contrast. All in all I took 93 pictures while Alex held an umbrella over the camera to keep it from getting wet. [All these gravestone pictures will be put on the web page in due time.] We ended up in the old part of the cemetery and took the few gravestones that were at least marginally legible. My levis were soaked and so were my sneakers and socks. We were out there for about 2 hours snapping away in the driving rain.

We finished in Rozhnyatov between 12noon and 1pm. We decided to go back to Lviv via some other little towns. We were especially interested in Dolina (which means valley in Ukrainian) because this was the site to which the Jews were taken from Rozhnyatov and shot. We took a picture of the sign as we entered Dolina and then tried to find the old part of town. We did not find it immediately. Alex said that he always has some problem getting oriented in Dolina and we started referring to this as the "Dolina problem." We found it pretty quickly after a false start or two. Alex took us to an old synagogue in Dolina which has been turned into a Baptist Church. Just behind the synagogue there is a memorial at the site of a mass grave. My relatives (still unknown) may well have met their demise on this site. We went to the site of the memorial and Alex translated the Ukrainian on the plaque as follows, "On this place in 1943 German fascists shot a group of citizens of the town of Dolina." There is no mention that at least 99% of these citizens were Jews. This was the pattern in the Soviet times --- no mention of the Jews. This site of a mass grave is very close to town in contrast to the situation in Buchach. As we were getting ready to leave, a drunk came over. Alex blocked his path and told him "You are drunk, go on your way. Don't show people who have come here what you look like." He left. As we were leaving, Aurice spotted a fellow cutting grass with a scythe and requested documentation so I took some video.

Then we looked for a place to have lunch in Dolina. Alex drove to one place which he thought had an indoor bathroom and he went in to check it. He said it was ok so we went into the cafe. It was pretty dark in the cafe; the lights were out. Alex was concerned about the time it took to prepare meals and asked them how long it would take. We ordered mushroom soup which was reported to take only a little time to serve. It was a bit amusing since in the negotiations about what to order, the waiter said he does not recommend the sandwiches for tourists. He said that the natives had strong stomachs and could deal with the sandwiches, but tourists did not. The mushroom soup was ok, the bread was nice as usual. He also brought a little plate with cheese and meat. We had mineral water; all in all a good repast. During the entire meal we listened to loud Britney Spears songs. Amazing! We checked out the bathroom and it was gross but not as bad as the one in Rozhnyatov.

We passed through Bolechow and found the synagogue which is now a club for leather workers. It looks like it might have been a synagogue once. We took some video of the former synagogue. We also took some pictures of the city hall and an Eastern Orthodox Church. Along the road, we passed a Ukrainian soldiers' cemetery consisting of a collection of simple crosses made of birch tree logs. Alex asked if we wanted to stop and look at it and we did and took some pictures.

We drove to the synagogue in Stryj and got out to take its picture (still 1 and still 2 plus video [33 Mb]). It was pretty broken down with no roof. As I was about to snap my first picture, two Ukrainian young women stopped their walk to let me take the picture. I waved them to go ahead and as they passed me I said "thank you" to which one of them replied "you're welcome" in perfect English and with a big smile on her face as she registered my surprise. Alex told me that the street consisted of a lot of original houses of the former Jewish community of Stryj. He asked if I were interested in walking down the street. So I walked down the street, video camera in hand. I saw some old codgers talking in the street. They said something to me that I did not understand as I went by so I stopped. I asked them in German whether they spoke German or English. They said they spoke German. So I exchanged pleasantries with them. After I finished speaking with them, I walked down the street further getting more video [22 Mb] and beginning to imagine what this street looked like before 1939. I think this street of all streets gave me some indication of the appearance of these towns pre-WWII. It had an intimacy that was attractive --- small street, small houses huddled together. I imagined the street filled with people. I turned around and walked back toward the car and encountered the same two old codgers who were now saying goodbye to each other. So I walked back down the street with one of the old codgers, the one who spoke better German. He told me that this was once a beautiful synagogue and shook his head in sadness at its present state. I went back to the car which was parked by the synagogue and both Aurice and Alex were out of the car. Alex was having a smoke. Aurice had discovered a piece of metal that showed the star of David, the only clear sign that Jews had once been here. She said that I might not want to go into the synagogue. That made me curious so I went in. What an incredible mess. There was garbage all around. Clearly this was a place were animals came or were taken to defecate. There were trees and weeds covering the grounds inside the synagogue hull. The roof was gone and so were parts of the walls. It was a very depressing sight.

We drove back to Lviv and got reacquainted with the Grand Hotel which looked even grander after our trip to the shtetlach. At 7pm we went into the dining room of the hotel for the farewell dinner which included --- Mike, Steve, Robin, Joyce, Alex, Ann and Bob and us. Everybody took pictures of everybody. Video cameras and still cameras were sported by all except Robin who seemed a bit amused by all the crazy Americans. I had chateaubriand for dinner and Aurice had beef Stroganoff. The dinner was good but it took them an hour and a half to get it ready. They are extremely slow by American standards even in the superb Grand Hotel. During dinner there was a knocking on the window behind us and Alex said ignore it, they are just beggars. I think he is more bothered by this kind of thing than we are. The dinner conversation was lively. Bob Kolber mentioned to me that he had information about the Frenkel family in Buchach and we agreed to exchange information. When the dinner broke up, most people went back to their rooms. I stayed behind to chat with Bob and Robin. I showed Robin and Bob the pictures I had scanned from the Buchach Yizkor book. I showed Bob the aerial photographs of Buchach and gave him a set. On this trip, I have given sets to Robin, Alex, and Bob.

Robin had a very successful time of it. He had been in touch with a fellow that was a survivor of the holocaust in Stryj and had, for months, been hidden in a bunker in a house in Stryj. There was a movie company interested in making a movie about this adventure and they needed to find the bunker. So Robin's project was to find the bunker. Robin says he is quite certain that he found the bunker still there in the basement of the house. He needs to check a few details with the survivor, but is quite certain he has got it.

Robin talked a bit about the hierarchy in the camps that made them all work. At the bottom of the hierarchy were the Jewish workers recruited to govern the Jewish inmates. Above them were the Ukrainians, above them were the German Ukrainians (Germans who had settled in the Ukraine years before), and above them were the SS. Most camps had only a few of these SS (10-15) which he said were not real SS in that they had not received the SS training but were recruited haphazardly. He gave as an example the story of the commandant of Treblinka. He had been a cook in Germany at a location that was near where the SS conducted the euthanasia program. He befriended the SS people and they liked him so they took him with them as a cook when they went east to staff the Treblinka concentration camp. He ultimately became the commandant. This point is one Robin has been making all week --- the perpetrators were ordinary Germans.

Bob shook his head and asked about the cruelty of the whole business. How could they delight in their work. Robin responded by saying that the German Ukrainians were the cruelest of the lot; they took pleasure in the cruelty. But, they would not have been capable of the holocaust on their own; the Germans were essential. The Ukrainians were in it largely for the money as were the Germans. The Germans were cruel, but not as cruel as the Ukrainians. The Germans participated in the cruelty out of boredom.

I agreed to exchange information on Buchach with both Robin and Bob. We all parted and I got back to the room at 10:30pm. I worked on the journal till 12:30am and then hit the sack.