Jewish Heritage Europe

Ukraine: Holocaust mass graves survey at Rohatyn completed

Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn Photo: Rohatyn Jewish Heritage group/Marla Raucher Osborn
New Jewish cemetery in Rohatyn Photo: Rohatyn Jewish Heritage group/Marla Raucher Osborn


A 10-day survey using non-invasive, ground-penetrating technology to locate Holocaust mass graves and killing sites in Rohatyn, Ukraine has just concluded.

The survey was carried out by a team led by Dr. Caroline Sturdy-Colls from the Centre for Archaeology at Staffordshire University.  It formed part of a broader project on Recording Cultural Genocide and Killing Sites in Jewish Cemeteries “that focuses on raising awareness of the causes and consequences of cultural genocide and mass killings (using Jewish cemeteries desecrated by the Nazis as a pilot case study), directly tackling racism, xenophobia and hostility in the present.”

The Rohatyn survey was commissioned by  Rohatyn Jewish Heritage, a volunteer-led NGO that works to reconnect the history of Rohatyn’s destroyed Jewish community with today’s town and to recover and preserve the town’s devastated Jewish cemeteries. The Cyprus Institute’s Science and Technology in Archaeology Research Centre provided scientific support.


Photo: Rohatyn Jewish Heritage (screen shot from FB page)
Photo: Rohatyn Jewish Heritage (screen shot from FB page)


Progress of the survey, starting with the extensive clean-up by volunteers of Rohatyn’s New Jewish Cemetery, was documented daily — with many photos —  on the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage Facebook page, as well as on the general Killing Sites project’s Facebook page. Take a look!

A preliminary report by the Archaeology Centre states that:

The survey focused on three sites in the town where witnesses suggest mass killings and burials were carried out. Approximately 3500 of the town’s residents were rounded up and shot at two pits to the south of the town on the 20th March 1942. Thousands more from Rohatyn and nearby towns and villages were killed in ad hoc executions throughout 1942-1943, and during the  “Final Aktion” in June 1943. Rohatyn’s old and new Jewish cemeteries were both desecrated by the Nazis.

The international archaeological team used a combination of non-invasive topographic and geophysical survey methods to map the sites and try to locate the mass graves without disturbing the ground. Photogrammetry techniques were also used to record a sample of the surviving headstones in both the old and new Jewish cemeteries. 

The results from the survey will be published later this year, in both English and Ukrainian.

(NOTE: Rohatyn Jewish Heritage has begun a crowd-funding campaign to cover the costs of the survey which, it estimates, will amount to more than $24,000. Click here to access the Go Fund Me page.)

Initiated last year, the Recording Cultural Genocide and Killing Sites in Jewish Cemeteries is a two-year research project, funded by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance. The project is a collaboration between Staffordshire University, The Matzevah Foundation and Fundacja Zapomniane.

The project

will adopt a unique interdisciplinary methodology to achieve its aims, utilising techniques from history, archaeology, digital humanities, conservation and community engagement. It will use state-of-the-art recording methods to locate and document evidence of cultural and other forms of genocide involving mass violence.

This, it states, will be achieved by:

(1) Conducting new research into relationships between the destruction of property by Nazis and their collaborators, and the use of religious spaces as killing sites;

(2) Undertaking a series of “social action projects” at selected Jewish cemeteries where cultural genocide and mass killings occurred in the past, and where neglect and vandalism is occurring presently.

(3) Disseminating the results of the research and fieldwork via a state-of-the-art digital platform.


Jewish cemetery, Oswiecim, Poland.
Jewish cemetery, Oswiecim, Poland.


The Rohatyn survey was the second by be completed by the Project. In August 2016, in close partnership with the Matzevah Foundation, it carried out the mapping and restoration of the Jewish cemetery in Oświęcim, Poland (the town outside which the Auschwtiz death camp was built.)

An interdisciplinary, international team from Staffordshire University (UK), The Matzevah Foundation (US) and Fundacja Zapomniane (Poland) located and recorded matzevah within the cemetery grounds using a wide range of forensic archaeological methods. The project […] utilised non-invasive techniques such as Total Station mapping, photogrammetry, laser scanning and Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR) to create the first accurate plan of the cemetery and the surviving matzevah, to document surviving evidence of the desecration of the cemetery by the Nazis during the war and post-war vandalism, and to identify any below ground evidence of cultural and physical genocide. Drawing upon methods from the digital humanities and games technology, the team will create a highly detailed 3D visualisation of the cemetery and individual matzevah.

Steven D. Reece, the president of the Matzevah Foundation, wrote about the survey and the involvement of the Foundation in the general Killing Sites project, in a Have Your Say essay we published in December 2016, called Working Toward Reconciliation: a Christian’s Involvement in Jewish Cemetery Restoration:

The scope of the project was to pinpoint and record the location of the matzevot within the cemetery confines and to record the data found within the inscriptions upon each matzevah. TMF worked with Staffordshire University staff and students to clear the cemetery of undergrowth, erect matzevah fragments in concrete bases, and recover matzevah fragments.


Visit the Holocaust Killing Sites web site

Visit the Rohatyn Jewish Heritage web site

See further details and background about the Rohatyn project and contribute to its funding on the GoFundMe page

Read Steven D. Reece’s Have Your Say essay



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