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Genealogy Project Aims to Save and Rekindle Polish Jewish Life

A leading New York businessman has initiated an effort to sustain Jewish life in Poland and other Eastern European countries.

“We have a small window of opportunity to save the legacy of a thousand years of vibrant Jewish life in Poland before it is lost forever,” said businessman Ronald S. Lauder, who recently established the Ronald S. Lauder Genealogy Project at the Jewish Historical Institute of Poland in Warsaw.

“What a tragedy it would be if the legacy of one of history’s greatest, most highly developed Jewish communities were finally destroyed — not by Nazis, not by Communists, not by natural disaster, but simply by our own indifference and neglect,” said Lauder.

Lauder has founded an expanding collection of educational programs and institutions in parts of Eastern Europe since 1987.

A large amount of genealogical material long thought lost or destroyed has been found in Eastern European archives. The findings include documents that have never been cataloged.

Before World War II, more than 3 million Jews lived in Poland. Only 10 percent survived. Today, between 15,000 and 20,000 Jews live in Poland.

“Fifty years after the war’s end, many survivors, their children and grandchildren are returning to Poland looking for their family history, their ancestral roots,” said Yale Reisner, who will direct the project.

“This is a most exciting program, designed to assist researchers and privately interested individuals in rediscovering their family histories and the complexity and richness of Jewish life in Poland and beyond.” Reisner said.

Some reunions of Jews separated during the war already have occurred, he added.

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