Holocaust Remembrance Day

Hostage’s niece tells their family’s Holocaust and Oct. 7 stories

Jerusalemites gather for a different kind of Zikaron Basalon, as Tamar Pearlman hopes family’s story of survival will help Alex Dancyg withstand Hamas captivity

Jessica Steinberg, The Times of Israel's culture and lifestyles editor, covers the Sabra scene from south to north and back to the center

Tamar Pearlman, left, niece of Hamas hostage Alex Dancyg, speaks about her uncle's Holocaust history at a Zikaron Basalon event in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2024. (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Tamar Pearlman, left, niece of Hamas hostage Alex Dancyg, speaks about her uncle's Holocaust history at a Zikaron Basalon event in Jerusalem on Holocaust Remembrance Day, May 5, 2024. (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

It was a full house at the hostage families’ tent on Sunday night in Jerusalem, as some 200 people gathered for a different kind of Zikaron Basalon (memory in the living room), the tradition of informal gatherings in peoples’ homes on the eve of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

The tent is not used as anybody’s home. It has become the gathering place for the capital’s hostage families, those with loved ones taken captive to Gaza on October 7, and is the epicenter for the weekly rallies held each Saturday evening.

Its corners are full of placards with the hostages’ faces, as well as boxes full of yellow ribbon pins, hostage dog tags and yellow ribbon bracelets. A long table is always set with cakes, cookies and a hot water urn, with the makings for tea and coffee.

On Sunday night, it was a place of community, as Jersualemites of all ages, including some of the local hostage families, gathered on the chilly May evening to hear about the way history appears to have repeated itself in the past months, in particular for some of the hostages held in Gaza, and in a larger sense for the Jewish people.

Tamar Pearlman, a former high school homeroom teacher who now teaches meditation, spoke about her Uncle “Olesh,” as he’s known in the family, or Alex Dancyg, 75, a resident of Kibbutz Nir Oz who was taken hostage by Hamas terrorists on October 7 along with 251 others.

Pearlman told the story of Olesh’s family, of her maternal grandparents who escaped Warsaw at the start of World War II and made their way to Russia — a tale of survival and small miracles. They had a baby daughter — Pearlman’s mother — and ended up leaving her with a non-Jewish woman who offered to care for her while they hid under a false name.

They returned after the war to reclaim their daughter from her caregiver, a woman later named by the family as a Righteous Among the Nations. The family settled in Warsaw where Alex Dancyg was born in 1948, until they emigrated to Israel in 1957.

In Israel, Dancyg joined the Labor Zionist Hashomer Hatzair youth group and made his home in Kibbutz Nir Oz, where he married and had four children.

Alex Dancyg (Courtesy)

The story of the Jews of Poland and Polish-Jewish dialogue became his life’s work, said Pearlman, as Dancyg became a master educator of the Holocaust, with a unique and very personal approach, engaging in dialogue with Polish teens and showing Warsaw as a city and a place, not just a Holocaust memorial.

Dancyg was home alone on October 7, after spending the previous evening with his son Matti and family who live on Nir Oz. Family members were in touch with him that morning, and one granddaughter reported that Dancyg said the situation was “complicated… which meant that it was very bad,” said Pearlman.

Dancyg’s son and daughter and their family survived, after his son-in-law fought off terrorists in his living room. His ex-wife hid in her kibbutz house safe room with two teenage granddaughters, holding the safe room door shut for eight hours.

Dancyg was taken hostage and the last that has been heard of him was at the end of November, when some 100 hostages were released in a temporary truce deal.

Some had been with Dancyg and told his family about the Holocaust lessons he taught in the Gaza tunnels, although they often asked him to change topic, Pearlman said wryly. Since then, there has been no word, although his family still has hope, she said.

“All of what my grandparents went through — I hope it helps him survive,” said Pearlman.

Warsaw, Dancyg’s birth city, is currently full of graffiti of his face, images of which have been sent to the family.

(LtoR) Marta Rebzda, radio journalist and long-time friend of Alex Dancyg, Dariusz Paczkowski, artist and educator, and Dorota Kozarzewska, a long-time friend of Dancyg, pose for photos next to a mural portraying Polish-Israeli Holocaust historian and educator Alex Dancyg, who was taken hostage when Hamas terrorists stormed the Nir Oz kibbutz in Israel near the Gaza border on October 7, and with the subtitle referring to him as ‘Ambassador of Dialogue,” in Warsaw, Poland. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

The adaptability of antisemitism

Writer and philosopher Micha Goodman offered a different approach to Zikaron Basalon in the hostages’ tent with a brief look at antisemitism and its roots in the Holocaust.

Writer Micah Goodman offers thoughts about antisemitism at a Zikaron Baslon on Holocaust Remembrance Day in Jerusalem, May 5, 2024 (Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

He took the audience through the thinking of Theodor Herzl, who believed antisemitism could be abolished with the creation of a Jewish nation, and into later thinking about white privilege and the Jews as a minority at the top of the food chain, and sometimes seen as threatening white privilege.

Antisemitism has proved itself endlessly adaptable for thousands of years, he noted, and notably in recent generations and right now. “Once they demonstrated with signs saying, ‘Jews, go to Palestine’,” he observed. “Now their grandchildren demonstrate with signs saying, ‘Jews, get out of Palestine’.”

“Now nationalism is bad and Israel is nationalism,” said Goodman. “Antisemitism is the politics of blame, and it’s easy to blame the Jews.”

“Why blame Jews for your problems?” he asked rhetorically. “Because they are perceived as strong when they’re weak.” So Jews can be hated without fear of consequences. But when antisemitism rises in societies, he argued, it means “those societies are not facing up to their own problems…  It shows they are in decline…, and disconnecting from reality.”

Cautioned Goodman, Israelis and Jews can’t lose touch with their reality, particularly as this Holocaust Remembrance Day coincides with the significant global rise in antisemitism amid the sorrows and realities of October 7.

“Our brothers and sisters [held hostage in Gaza] are in a holocaust,” concluded Goodman, shaking his head. “And we want them back.”

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