Family pleads for release of Holocaust scholar Alex Dancyg held in Gaza

Son of Polish-Israeli citizen Alex Dancyg 'begging' Warsaw to take action

Alex Dancyg is well known for educating thousands of students and tour guides at Israel's Yad Vashem museum.
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Family, friends and former students across Israel and Poland have urged the release of an elderly scholar renowned for teaching about the Holocaust as he remains held hostage in Gaza.

Orit Margaliot last spoke to her close friend Alex Dancyg, 75, on October 6.

The pair, who met in 2000 and worked together at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, previously talked on the phone every two days.

They had made plans to meet in Jerusalem, where Mr Dancyg’s grandson would celebrate his bar mitzvah.

The event went ahead, but Mr Dancyg was not there, instead held in Gaza, where an estimated 163 people are still hostages of Hamas.

“From the beginning, we decided that's he's alive because you can't live otherwise. We all speak of him in the present tense,” Ms Margalit told The National from her home in Jerusalem.

“Our belief is that he's alive and coming home. We can't imagine any other possibility.”

Born to Holocaust survivors in 1948, Mr Dancyg is best known for educating thousands of children on the Holocaust and Poland's Jewish history at Yad Vashem.

He fostered relations between Israel and Poland, where he has trained people working now as guides at the Auschwitz museum and other camps.

In his childhood home of Poland, colourful murals of Mr Dancyg have sprung up across the capital, where demonstrations for his release were held in October.

In Jerusalem, his former colleagues at Yad Vashem spoke of “thousands” of students taught by Mr Dancyg in his 30 years as an educator, shuttling back and forth between Poland and Israel during his time at Yad Vashem's Poland department.

“We're very different. I'm observant, he's secular,” Ms Margaliot said of Mr Dancyg.

“He's one of the most knowledgeable, if not the most knowledgeable person I know, but he's also very caring. He would never rest if I might not have something (kosher) to eat.”

“I record messages to him on my personal WhatsApp, as if we're talking. I tell myself he'll come back and he'll hear everything. I listen to recordings of his lectures, which made him so present.

“I know he's coming back and I'm sure he's coming back alive. I won't accept any other reality. But for those minutes, he's standing here next to me.”

Mr Dancyg's son Matti survived the attack on Kibbutz Nir Oz, along with his ex-wife, children and grandchildren, who hid in bomb shelters for 10 hours.

“We had a few days of hope when the other kidnapped from Nir Oz came back home, but since the ceasefire ended, we are very worried,” he told The National.

In late October, hostages freed from Gaza confirmed the historian was alive and said he was being held in underground tunnels, where he gives history lectures to fellow captives.

“The last hostages to be release told us he was alive, but that was 20 days ago. It's getting more dangerous every day,” said Matti.

“I'm begging the Polish government to do something, to pressure the Israeli government to change the priorities. Human life is worth saving more than killing all the terrorists … and they don't have time.”

His worries have been heightened by his father's ill health and reports other hostages were not given medicine handed over to the Red Cross.

“My father is sick and needs his medicine. He had a severe heart attack several years ago and also takes medication for his kidneys."

While a temporary truce secured the release of 110 hostages, all women and children, Israeli air strikes on Gaza have resumed with ferocity.

Now relatives of the hostages fear their loved ones will be hit.

“We're very worried they will be killed by our own forces that are bombing Gaza now, that they will be injured or killed by Israel by mistake,” said Matti.

Those in Poland pleading for the release of Mr Dancyg include former students, actors and those in charge of the Auschwitz Memorial, one of many sites Mr Dancyg would visit with students learning about the Holocaust.

The museum's social media channels said he “devoted himself to teaching how the evil, perverse, and godless system of Nazi Germany could destroy good, peaceful, and innocent people”.

“The innocent and righteous have the right to live in harmony and peace. This principle applies to everyone, including Alex Dancyg, who, through his teachings, bears witness to the innocence and righteousness of unfairly treated victims,” it said.

Former residents of his devastated kibbutz shared stories of Mr Dancyg, who also ran a peanut farm, sharing widely with Bedouin Palestinians in nearby villages.

“He is a man of the land and a man of the book,” said Ms Margaliot.

One campaigner, Pola Namysl, despite never meeting Mr Dancyg, has set up a social media account calling for his release, one of many dedicated to those taken into captivity.

“Everyone loves him,” she said from Warsaw, where she organised a rally in support of Mr Dancyg and other captives.

“He's an incredibly intelligent, but incredibly caring person. I can't wait for him to be released so he can see all of these people who care about him.”

Matti has been critical of the Israeli government, as are many relatives of those still held by Hamas and other Palestinian militant groups.

“Put the ego aside and get them back, whatever the price. I don't care about the price,” he said.

“The government deserted them. Left them to die, to be raped, the kidnapped, taken to hell. They have to pay the price now.”

Updated: December 11, 2023, 3:50 PM