15 March 2009

DNA Shoah Project: testing, Holocaust education

The DNA Shoah Project utilizes genetic tools to reunite families separated by the Holocaust, and it has just launched a multimedia curriculum employing genetics to teach high schoolers and adults about the Holocaust. The curriculum is free at the site.

Many Jewish genealogists have heard founder Syd Mandelbaum - the son of survivors and grandson of three who perished at Auschwitz in 1942 - speak about the project which collects genetic DNA - at no cost to participants - from survivors and their direct descendants to help identify Holocaust remains discovered in Europe.

The project's research coordinator Matt Kaplan will speak at 6pm Sunday, March 15, at Houston (Texas) Holocaust Museum, to raise the group's profile and attract more participants. He was interviewed in this Houston Chronicle article.
“The science is the easy part,” Kaplan said. “The hard part is letting people know we’re doing this at all.”
The non-profit project grew from Mandelbaum’s quest to develop a database of the Holocaust’s missing; some 1,000 survivors and descendants have already contributed DNA cheek samples. He was introduced to Dr. Michael Hammer, a University of Arizona geneticist and director of the Genomic Analysis and Technology Core facility within the Arizona Research Laboratories (ARL) Division of Biotechnology. Their meeting and subsequent collaboration created the project.

The new educational learning modules are designed to supplement existing Holocaust education materials already available for humanities, history, and the arts and bring lessons of the Holocaust into the biology classroom.

According to Kaplan, it is important to have historically accurate curricula about the Holocaust. “Our curriculum designers have created a set of learning materials that are both compelling and scrupulously accurate.”

Aimed at high school students and adult learners, the curriculum utilizes the enthusiasm surrounding forensic science and offers a science-based activity with contemporary and historical ramifications.

Introductory activities provide social context and insight into the Holocaust through survivor video testimony; follow-up activities move students into the science behind the project's family reunification efforts.

The lesson culminates with a sample forensic reconstruction and the construction of an unknown DNA profile. Additional materials include annotated teacher’s guides, discussion questions and student worksheets.
“By using science to build the learning activities, we are helping students understand the very same science that will be used to build our project’s genetic database of Holocaust survivors,” Kaplan continued. “We believe the introduction of our curriculum modules is particularly timely since younger people today have a strong interest in forensic science.”
The curriculum materials are free of charge at the website

The cutting-edge science forms the foundation for the project's goal, which is to build a forensic database of genetic information from Holocaust survivors and their immediate descendants in an effort to reunite families torn apart by the Holocaust.

More than 60 years after World War II, thousands of families still seek information about loved ones who disappeared. The project aims to match displaced relatives and provide Holocaust orphans and lost children with information about their biological families.

Aging Holocaust survivors are being lost quickly, so the work is urgent. The goal is to collect as many DNA samples as possible from the international community of survivors and their families.

The DNA Shoah Project is a non-profit, humanitarian effort housed at the University of Arizona with the goal of reuniting families torn apart by the Holocaust. There is no cost to participate. Donations are tax-deductible.

Kaplan says the database may also be used one day to identify the remains of Holocaust victims found in mass graves.

Read the complete article here.

1 comment:

  1. There was an article today in the Houston Press about the Shoah project, featuring a woman named Thea Singer who was born in Berlin in 1929 and is trying to track down any relatives she may have: