Holocaust survivors offered DNA tests to help find family

Nov 29, 2022, 8:06 AM | Updated: Nov 30, 2022, 7:49 pm
Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ances...

Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

(AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)

              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for public services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, speaks in New York on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. The center is launching a project offering DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for public services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, speaks in New York on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. The center is launching a project offering DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for public services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, speaks in New York on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. The center is launching a project offering DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for public services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, speaks in New York on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. The center is launching a project offering DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for public services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for public services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, speaks in New York on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. The center is launching a project offering DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for public services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, speaks in New York on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. The center is launching a project offering DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for Public Services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, senior manager for public services for the Center for Jewish History, handles Ancestry DNA test kits the center offers free to Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the Center for Jewish History, speaks in New York on Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022. The center is launching a project offering DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children. (AP Photo/Ted Shaffrey)
            
              A genealogy testing kit for Ancestry/DNA is displayed in the Ackman and Ziff Family Genealogy Institute research area at the Center for Jewish History (CJH), Tuesday Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. CJH is launching a project offering the DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children to help increase the possibly of finding family connections torn apart in World War II. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
            
              A genealogy testing kit for Ancestry/DNA is displayed in the Ackman and Ziff Family Genealogy Institute research area at the Center for Jewish History (CJH), Tuesday Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. CJH is launching a project offering the DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children to help increase the possibly of finding family connections torn apart in World War II. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)
            
              Lauren Gilbert, a senior manager at the Center for Jewish History (CJH), participate in a global online conference to launch genealogy testing for Holocaust survivors, Tuesday, Nov. 29, 2022, in New York. CJH is offering Ancestry/DNA testing kits for free to Holocaust survivors and their children to help increase the possibly of finding family connections torn apart in World War II. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

NEW YORK (AP) — For decades, Jackie Young had been searching.

Orphaned as an infant, he spent the first few years of his life in a Nazi internment camp in what is now the Czech Republic. After World War II he was taken to England, adopted and given a new name.

As an adult, he struggled to learn of his origins and his family. He had some scant information about his birth mother, who died in a concentration camp. But about his father? Nothing. Just a blank space on a birth certificate.

That changed earlier this year when genealogists used a DNA sample to help find a name — and some relatives he never knew he had.

Having that answer to a lifelong question has been “amazing,” said Young, now 80 and living in London. It “opened the door that I thought would never get opened.”

Now there’s an effort underway to bring that possibility to other Holocaust survivors and their children.

The New York-based Center for Jewish History is launching the DNA Reunion Project, offering DNA testing kits for free through an application on its website. For those who use the kits it is also offering a chance to get some guidance on next steps from the genealogists who worked with Young.

Those genealogists, Jennifer Mendelsohn and Adina Newman, have been doing this kind of work over the last several years, and run a Facebook group about Jewish DNA and genetic genealogy.

The advent of DNA technology has opened up a new world of possibilities in addition to the paper trails and archives that Holocaust survivors and their descendants have used to learn about family connections severed by genocide, Newman said.

“There are times when people are separated and they don’t even realize they’re separated. Maybe a name change occurred so they didn’t know to look for the other person,” she said. “There are cases that simply cannot be solved without DNA.”

While interest in genealogy and family trees is widespread, there’s a particular poignancy in doing this work in a community where so many family ties have been ripped apart because of the Holocaust, Mendelsohn said.

Her earliest effort in this arena was for her husband’s grandmother, who lost both parents, six siblings and a grandfather in the genocide. That effort led to aunts and cousins about whom no one in her husband’s family had known.

Her husband’s uncle, she said, called afterwards and said, “You know, I’ve never seen a photograph of my grandmother. Now that I see photographs of her sisters, it’s so comforting to me. I can imagine what she look like.”

“How do you explain why that’s powerful? It just is. People had nothing. Their families were erased. And now we can bring them back a little bit,” Mendelsohn said.

She and Newman take pains to emphasize that there are no guarantees. Doing the testing or searching archives doesn’t mean living relatives or new information will be found. But it offers a chance.

They and the center are encouraging people to take that chance, especially as time passes and the number of living survivors declines.

“It really is the last moment where these survivors can be given some modicum of justice,” said Gavriel Rosenfeld, president of the center.

“We feel the urgency of this,” Newman said. “I wanted to start yesterday, and that’s why it’s like, no time like the present.”

Rosenfeld said the center had allocated an initial $40,000 for the DNA kits in this beginning pilot effort and expects to spend as much as $100,000 on them in the program’s first year. He said they would look to scale up further if they see enough interest.

Ken Engel thinks there will be. He leads a group in Minnesota for the children of Holocaust survivors and has already told his membership about the program.

“This is an important effort,” Engel said. “It may reveal and disclose wonderful information for them that they never knew about, may make them feel more settled or more connected to the past.”

Young definitely feels that way.

“I’ve been wanting to know all my life,” he said. “If I hadn’t known what I do know now, I think I would still felt that my left arm or my right arm wasn’t fully formed. Family is everything, it’s the major pillar of life in humanity.”

___

This story has been corrected to reflect that the initial allocation for the pilot program is $40,000, not $15,000.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

The painting "A Boating Party" by French painter Gustave Caillebotte is displayed at the Orsay Muse...
Associated Press

France buys new masterpiece for Orsay museum with LVMH gift

PARIS (AP) — France has acquired a stunning Impressionist masterpiece for its national collection of art treasures, with a donation from luxury goods giant LVMH paying the 43 million euros (nearly $47 million) for “A Boating Party” by 19th-century French artist Gustave Caillebotte. The oil on canvas shows an oarsman in a top hat rowing […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Austrian police find family illegally living in wine cellar

BERLIN (AP) — Austrian police said Monday they arrested a 54-year-old man after he attacked two social workers with pepper spray when they found him living illegally in a private wine cellar in northeastern Austria with a woman and six young children. Police in the Austrian province of Lower Austria were still trying to determine […]
1 day ago
FILE - Signs stand outside Richneck Elementary School in Newport News, Va., on Jan. 25, 2023. The s...
Associated Press

School where 6-year-old shot his teacher set to reopen

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (AP) — Stepped-security and a new school administrator will be present as students return to the Virginia elementary school where a 6-year-old boy shot his teacher weeks ago. Richneck Elementary School in Newport News was set to reopen Monday, more than three weeks after the Jan. 6 shooting. Police have said the […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Kimberly Palmer: How to safely use payment apps

As a frequent PayPal user, I wasn’t surprised to see a payment request on the app pop up. But when I read it, I knew something was wrong. In the message, a stranger asked me to send them $699 in order to get a “refund.” While I instantly recognized the request as a scam, I […]
1 day ago
Associated Press

Pope taps Chicago native in Peru to lead bishops’ office

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Francis on Monday named an American-born missionary in Peru, Bishop Robert Francis Prevost, to take over the Vatican’s powerful bishops’ office from the retiring Canadian who has recently been accused of sexual misconduct. Prevost, a Chicago native and former superior of his Augustinian order who began ministering in Peru in […]
1 day ago
FILE - Netherland's Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, speaks with U.S. President Joe Biden during a ...
Associated Press

China accuses Washington of abusing export controls

BEIJING (AP) — China’s government on Monday criticized U.S. controls on technology exports as a trade violation, after Japan and the Netherlands agreed to join Washington in limiting Beijing’s access to materials to make advanced processor chips they say can be used in weapons. The Foreign Ministry didn’t mention the latest development but accused Washington […]
1 day ago

Sponsored Articles

safety from crime...

As crime increases, our safety measures must too

It's easy to be accused of fearmongering regarding crime, but Seattle residents might have good reason to be concerned for their safety.
Comcast Ready for Business Fund...
Ilona Lohrey | President and CEO, GSBA

GSBA is closing the disparity gap with Ready for Business Fund

GSBA, Comcast, and other partners are working to address disparities in access to financial resources with the Ready for Business fund.
SHIBA WA...

Medicare open enrollment is here and SHIBA can help!

The SHIBA program – part of the Office of the Insurance Commissioner – is ready to help with your Medicare open enrollment decisions.
Lake Washington Windows...

Choosing Best Windows for Your Home

Lake Washington Windows and Doors is a local window dealer offering the exclusive Leak Armor installation.
Anacortes Christmas Tree...

Come one, come all! Food, Drink, and Coastal Christmas – Anacortes has it all!

Come celebrate Anacortes’ 11th annual Bier on the Pier! Bier on the Pier takes place on October 7th and 8th and features local ciders, food trucks and live music - not to mention the beautiful views of the Guemes Channel and backdrop of downtown Anacortes.
Swedish Cyberknife Treatment...

The revolutionary treatment of Swedish CyberKnife provides better quality of life for majority of patients

There are a wide variety of treatments options available for men with prostate cancer. One of the most technologically advanced treatment options in the Pacific Northwest is Stereotactic Body Radiation Therapy using the CyberKnife platform at Swedish Medical Center.
Holocaust survivors offered DNA tests to help find family