Through a pilot program known as The DNA Reunion Project, the Center for Jewish History will make commercial DNA kits available free of charge to Holocaust survivors or their children. The Project will also serve as a central genealogical resource where Holocaust survivors with complex family histories can access a genetic genealogical consultation at no cost. These difficult cases might include hidden children, unknown parent cases, or non-Jews first learning of hidden Jewish history from DNA testing.
“With the number of Holocaust survivors declining every year, I cannot think of a more timely initiative,” said Gavriel Rosenfeld, President of the Center for Jewish History. “By marrying technological ingenuity and historical sensitivity, the DNA Reunion Project will provide an invaluable service to Holocaust survivors and their families.”
The team of Jennifer Mendelsohn and Adina Newman, experts in the field of Ashkenazi Jewish genetic genealogy, will lead the consultation aspect of the project. Mendelsohn and Newman have logged countless hours working to reunite families separated by the Holocaust. Some of these cases were complex mysteries solved using DNA only, including identifying the unknown father of a baby born in a concentration camp, identifying the unknown father of a child survivor of Theresienstadt, and tracking down the biological family of a toddler found in a Polish orphanage after the war.
According to Mendelsohn and Newman, "Our partnership with CJH has been a natural fit. We are thrilled to team up with one of the pre-eminent Jewish institutions in the world, to leverage their vast resources and reputation to help further our goal of repairing shattered families."
Mendelsohn and Newman will work in conjunction with the genealogy librarians at the Center’s Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute. On Tuesday, November 29 at 12:30 PM ET, the Center will be hosting a conversation on Zoom with Mendelsohn and Newman, moderated by Daniel Mendelsohn, author of The Lost: A Search for Six of Six Million, to raise awareness and promote this new project. They will be joined by Jackie Young, a child survivor for whom they were able to determine the biological father’s identity and track down living relatives.
“The Ackman & Ziff Family Genealogy Institute is proud to be a part of this exciting new endeavor,” said Simon Ziff, Center for Jewish History Board Member. “Our goal is to make people aware that this valuable resource exists and let them know that it is still possible to make crucial connections, recover their lost family history, or discover living relatives,” said Ziff, who helped establish the Genealogy Institute along with the Ackman Family in 2007.
If you wish to support The DNA Reunion Project or request a DNA kit, please visit cjh.org/research/dna. At this time, only Holocaust survivors or their children will be eligible to participate. The distribution of kits will be decided on a case-by-case basis. If a person is accepted into the program, the wait time for a DNA kit will be determined by the total number of requests received, as supplies last.