Nightmare of Holocaust historian held hostage in Gaza

Alex Dancyg, the son of Shoah survivors, is now himself a captive of terrorists


Alex Dancyg with his former Yad Vashem colleague Orit Margaliot (Photo courtesy of Orit Margaliot)

Holocaust Memorial Day held a special significance for the family of Alex Dancyg.

The son of Holocaust survivors and himself a scholar of the Shoah, Dancyg, 75, was kidnapped by Hamas from his kibbutz on October 7 and is still held hostage in Gaza.

He suffers from a heart condition and his family do not know if he has received his medication. But hostages released last November have described how he was giving history lessons to keep his fellow captives’ spirits up.

“If I could speak to him, I would tell him that we are alive. I don’t even think that he knows,” his son Matty Dancyg, 46, from Kibbutz Nir-Oz like his father, told the JC. Matty survived the attack.

“While I know there is no chance that all the hostages are alive, I really hope it's not too late for him. I hope that he is holding on.”

Alex Dancyg was born in 1948 in Warsaw. The family moved to Israel in 1957, with Alex sent to live on Kibbutz Negba in the northern Negev desert.

“At first, it was hard for my father. He had to acclimate to living without his parents and to the kibbutz way of life, as well as learn Hebrew. Only months later did he go on to live with his parents in Tel Aviv,” Ben Dancyg, 48, Alex’s oldest son, told the JC.

Later Alex moved to Nir-Oz and helped to build up the kibbutz. A historian at Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Centre in Jerusalem, he dedicated his life to bringing together Israeli and Polish youth. He was one of the initiators of Yad Vashem’s educational programmes for youth to learn about the Holocaust by visiting the Nazi concentration camps in Poland.

“When we went on work trips together, Alex always made sure there was kosher food readily available for me," Orit Margaliot, who worked with Dancyg on Yad Vashem’s Polish desk from 2006 to 2017, told the JC. "If I had to walk on Shabbat, he would come with me.”

Margaliot met Dancyg early in 2000 when she enrolled in a course at Yad Vashem on Polish-Jewish relations during the Holocaust. Two years later she participated in a course Dancyg led for guides to Poland.

She last spoke to him the day before the attacks, and described him as “a passionate individual, with a deep love for the land, nature, literature and life itself. He cares so much, I could talk to him about everything. He is very knowledgeable in every field and knows how to pick people’s brains.”

Matty described the kibbutz sirens blaring that fateful Simchat Torah morning, sending residents rushing for shelter.

“He called me to say that someone had written a message in the kibbutz WhatsApp group about terrorists inside the community. That was the last time we spoke,” he said.

“We heard non-stop shooting around us and started seeing messages that terrorists were entering homes, gunning down people and torching the premises.”

The attack went on for many hours, with terrorists leaving only a few houses standing, including Matty’s.

“We were very frightened and expected them to come inside any minute. I looked at my little daughters. The thought that someone would come and hurt them was unbearable,” he said.

That morning, Matty’s brother-in-law Yaron Maor fought off the terrorists to save his wife and daughters. Matty’s mother, Rahel, managed to keep the door to their safe room closed, despite terrorists shooting at it multiple times, thus protecting two of her grandchildren who were hiding with her.

Alex and Itzik Elgarat, Rahel’s brother, were taken captive.

Israeli hostages freed from Gaza as part of last November’s ceasefire deal shared stories of Dancyg giving history lessons while in captivity.

“This was the last proof of life we received, on the 55th day after he was taken," Matty explained. "It has now been more than 115 days, we don’t know what is happening. We know they have moved inside the tunnels.

“My father has a heart condition He is not getting his medicine. He may have gotten some of it, but I am not sure he is getting any now."

Ben Dancyg explained how hard it was to pick one moment encapsulating his relationship with his father. “I can’t choose one but if I had to, it would probably be the happiness on his face on the day my first daughter was born,” he said.

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