16 May 2009

New York Times: DNA Shoah Project

The DNA Shoah Project, which uses DNA to track Holocaust survivors, made it to the New York Times today.
For years, Allen Rosenberg, a real estate developer from Hewlett Bay Park, has had a nagging thought: What if a first or second cousin survived the Holocaust and he didn’t know it?

Maybe my cousin was placed in a displaced person’s camp on the other side of Germany or in Poland,” said Mr. Rosenberg, who is 45.

As far as he knows, Mr. Rosenberg said, his father, who went into a hospital in Hamburg, Germany, with tuberculosis right after World War II and died in 1988, was the only member of his family to survive the Holocaust. Still, he said, “there is that slim chance.”

Until recently, Mr. Rosenberg could do no more than wonder. Then he learned of the DNA Shoah Project, which seeks to reunite families torn apart by the Holocaust. Shoah is the Hebrew word for Holocaust.

The nonprofit project is asking survivors, their children and grandchildren to provide a DNA sample to help build a genetic database of Jewish Holocaust survivors and their immediate descendants. The database may eventually be made available to European forensic experts attempting to identify remains of Holocaust victims.
According to the Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany, founded in 1951 to negotiate Holocaust reparations, more than 500,000 Jewish Holocaust survivors are believed to be alive.

Project co-founder Syd Mandelbaum of Long Island is looking for any trace of his grandfather Shlomo Barber; age 42 in 1942, he disappeared as a slave laborer in Germany. Mandelbaum's other three grandparents were murdered at Auschwitz.

Since the project began three years ago, some 1,000 DNA samples have been collected, but that 10,000 samples are needed for the database to be "statistically significant," and start producing hits.

Samples are collected using two cotton brushes to scrape the inside of a participant’s cheeks for 30 seconds. Request kits at DNAShoah.org or call (866) 897-1150.

Mandelbaum is a scientist with genetic and DNA research background who headed the American team using DNA sequencing in the 1990s disproving Anna Anderson's claim of being the youngest daughter of Czar Nicholas II of Russia.

After sets of nearly three dozen remains of what may have been Holocaust victims were found in Germany in 2005, Mr. Mandelbaum said, he learned that no DNA database of Holocaust victims existed. With the help of Michael Hammer, the head of a genetics analysis lab at the University of Arizona, the DNA Shoah
Project was born.
Read the complete story at the link above.


  1. The article you posted on the DNA Shoah Project is very interesting. However I do have a question regarding who will be allowed to provide DNA samples to the data base. I have two (unrelated) friends who were both born in the United States shortly after the end of World War II. Their grandparents arrived in the States before the onset of the war ( one friends family came from Russia, the other friends family originated in Germany) and to their knowledge they both lost their entire extended families in the Holocaust. Would people like my two friends be allowed to participate in this project to find out if any members of their families survived? I know they would be interested in participating this project.

  2. Hi, Betsy,

    The definitive answer will be from the organization itself. Contact DNAShoah.org and ask them directly. I do remember something about a limit of three generations, but I'm not sure. Are your friends' parents alive? If so, that's the other possibility. But do check with DNAShoah.org for the best answer.

  3. David5:41 PM

    I asked the organization a similar question to the above comment about a 1/2 year ago and never received an answer. My question: I am not the direct descendant of shoah survivors but I recently discovered that my father's sister and her husband and child were killed.
    I don't know if any one else of his family or anyone on my mother's side were affected. Would it be appropriate for me to participate?


  4. It seems that in order to see families reunited , the project would also need DNA samples from descendents of those who survive by leaving Europe before the Holocaust began.

  5. From DNAShoah.org about who may contribute:

    - A Holocaust survivor or second or third generation family member interested in contributing your DNA;

    - A World War II-era European immigrant still searching for family members;

    - For all the necessary forms and tutorials, click here: http://dnashoah.org/index.php/get-involved-mainmenu-55/27.html?task=view

    - For more info, info@dnashoah.org

  6. Yes, Betsy. My understanding exactly.

  7. Thanks! I will send information on the project to my friends.