"Of the six million Jews that were killed during the Holocaust, two million were cremated and their remains are lost forever. But four million, their remains were placed in the ground in mass graves or small graves distributed throughout Europe," explains Hammer. "So today, as roads are being developed and shopping malls are being built, some of these bones are turning up today accidentally by people doing the construction and they don't know what to do with these bones."
He says identifying those remains is now possible, using DNA matching techniques developed in the aftermath of recent catastrophes. The devastation of 9/11 forced scientists to innovate ways to identify victims from badly damaged DNA. "These are people who died between 1933 and 1945, so their remains have been in the ground for a long time," says Hammer.
Mandelbaum says that among the people coming to the project are survivors who know where their families perished, and they would like to have remains extracted and brought to cemetery plots in the US, Israel or other countries.
If the database grows large enough, he writes, it might also link distant relatives, and reunite scattered families. At the war's end, more than 10,000 orphans went around the world. Many were ages five to 10 and had no knowledge on where their families were.
Mandelbaum says, "The work we do now is not just for this generation, because as remains continue to turn up in Europe there is potential for matching to take place. Remains will be turning up for the next millennium, as long as construction goes on in Europe."
He will speak on the project at the upcoming 27th IAJGS International Conference on Jewish Genealogy (July 15-20, 2007)
To read more about Mandelbaum and the project, click here.