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The Holocaust Reunion Project

Updated: May 15

– by Maura Lerner Fisher –


Jennifer Mendelsohn remembers dancing with joy when she saw the DNA test results.


As a professional genealogist, she was trying to help an elderly British Holocaust survivor named Jackie Young, who had been cut off from his family as an infant. Until that moment, Young didn’t even know who his real father was, much less if anyone on that side of the family had survived the Shoah.


With the help of a DNA test and some diligent detective work, Mendelsohn and her colleague, Adina Newman, solved the mystery. They were able to tell Young exactly who his father was; and that he had, to his surprise, close living relatives in St. Louis.


Today, Mendelsohn and Newman run the Holocaust Reunion Project (previously known as the DNA Reunion Project) which they co-founded in 2022 to help Holocaust survivors and their children find out if they, too, have living relatives they never knew existed.


Next month, Mendelsohn will share some of those stories in a Zoom presentation for the Minnesota Jewish Genealogical Society on May 19.


“It’s been incredibly powerful for a lot of these people who really thought they were the only ones left,” said Mendelsohn, who lives in Baltimore.



One of the early participants, for example, was a woman who thought her grandmother’s entire family had been wiped out. She was shocked to discover that she had a living second cousin in New Jersey. It turned out that her grandmother, who perished in the Holocaust, “had a brother who came to the U.S. in his teens,” said Mendelsohn. “That information was lost to history.” Until it was revealed through DNA.


The project offers free DNA test kits to survivors or their children, as well as advice from experts to help them make sense of the results. So far, about 1,200 people have accepted the offer, Mendelsohn said.


Ancestry.com donated 2,500 test kits to the project, which is sponsored by the Center for Jewish History in New York.


The reaction has been “beyond our wildest dreams,” she said. “We had this idea to make this happen. We had no idea how much demand there would be.”


To register for Jennifer Mendelsohn’s Zoom presentation on May 19, go to mnjgs.org/event. It’s free for MNJGS members, $5 for nonmembers.

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