Mar 6, 2014 - Stories

Out Of The Ashes

The ashes of the Holocaust left very little for Peter Istvan Kovacs to sift through in his search for his ancestors.
There were very few Hungarian Jews who survived the war and exterminations. Among those murdered was Peter’s great grandfather, beaten to death in 1941 for refusing to convert to Christianity. Also lost to extermination camps and violence were innumerable relatives, he said.

“My grandmother had 11 brothers and sisters, and they all had many children,” he said. “We were a big family once.”Lost to War and Genocide

That family is gone now.

“I didn’t have any siblings and thought I had only two real cousins,” said Peter, who is a college student with an interest in anthropology and genetics. “We’re not a big family anymore.”

Wanting to know more about his ancestors Peter decided to get tested with 23andMe. He was interested in his ancestry and there just wasn’t anyone to ask.

“I’m interested in my roots,” he said.

Using DNA Testing to Explore Ancestry

Peter had heard about 23andMe and thought he might learn more about his ancestors.

On both his father’s and his mother’s side of the family, the war and Holocaust left very few survivors. It was much the same for all the Jews of Hungary, where the number of Jews before the war totaled about 6 percent of the country’s total population. After the war number of Jews there only amounted to about .1 percent of the total population.

For many people like Peter, who lost ancestors in the Holocaust it’s very difficult to piece together their family’s past. Over the years organizations have formed to help both survivors and their descendants piece together those missing pieces of their family history.

Those are important resources, but Peter also wanted to make connections using 23andMe.

“The day when I got my results has become a very important event for my life,” he said. “I just got a “family” back. At least that’s how I feel now and I’m so happy.”

Connecting to Cousins

He learned more about his ancestry, which includes both Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jewish roots.  And he found more than 1,000 23andMe DNA Relative matches – third and fourth cousins. More recently Peter found second cousins and one first cousin, using 23andMe. Those connections helped him find whole branches of his family that he didn’t know still existed. He was able to connect with many of his closest connections, learning that some of his relatives had escaped Hungary before and after the war, and immigrated to both Israel and the United States.

“They are very nice,” Peter said. “ Seeing their success and meeting them gives me new hope in life. And me who never had any siblings now has so many cousins.”

He also learned that one of his great grandfathers on his father’s side, Henrik Rosenblüth, survived the death camps. Those relatives were able to fill him in on family history he would never have learned otherwise.

“It makes my heart warm. They survived,” Peter said. ” I really cannot express my feelings, but it’s just beautiful.”

23andMe provides genetic testing services for informational purposes; your results may or may not help you to search for or identify relatives or family members.

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