ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 140

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Poles campaign for return of Holocaust educator, 75, taken hostage by Hamas

Polish-born historian Alex Dancyg seen by many as ‘ambassador of dialogue’ for efforts to improve relations between Israel and Poland, alongside ability to reach children

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, 2023, with the subtitle referring to him as 'Ambassador of Dialogue,' can be seen in Warsaw, Poland. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)
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, 2023, with the subtitle referring to him as 'Ambassador of Dialogue,' can be seen in Warsaw, Poland. (Wojtek Radwanski/AFP)

WARSAW, Poland (AFP) — Polish-born Israeli historian Alex Dancyg has dedicated his life to passing on the memory of the Holocaust. Now the 75-year-old is feared to be among the hostages the Hamas terror group is holding in Gaza.

Desperate for his safe return, friends and family have launched a campaign to build pressure for his release — echoing similar efforts for captives from Israel to the United States and Thailand.

In the weeks since Hamas’s onslaught in southern Israel on October 7, in which 1,400 people were massacred, most of them civilians, and at least 228 were taken hostage, messages tagged #StandWithAlex have been shared widely on Polish social media, and Dancyg’s face is seen on posters and murals painted in the streets of Warsaw.

Many hail him as the “ambassador of dialogue” for his years of efforts to ease long-standing suspicions between Poland and Israel and the ties he built across both Europe and the Middle East.

The academic and his family were at the Nir Oz kibbutz near the Gaza border when some 2,500 Hamas terrorists stormed into Israel and rampaged through communities.

In the confusion of the early hours of October 7, Dancyg gave urgent warnings to his son.

Destruction caused by Hamas terrorists in Kibbutz Nir Oz seen on October 19, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

“He was the one who told me: ‘Look at the messages, look what’s going on,'” Mati Dancyg, who survived by hiding in a shelter, told AFP by phone from an Israeli hotel for evacuated kibbutz residents.

When the attack was over, the elder Dancyg was gone, and his phone had gone silent.

A close friend, Orit Margaliot, a fellow Holocaust educator based in Israel, said the last time the two spoke was on the day before the Hamas attack.

“I haven’t slept much since then,” she said, her voice trembling. “I can’t speak of him in the past tense.”

Born in Poland, Dancyg moved to Israel aged 9 — and only came back to Poland three decades later as an interpreter for a school trip to Auschwitz, the Nazi concentration and extermination camp.

(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)

He then took a job at Israel’s Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, where he spent decades giving lectures to school children and training other guides.

“Not always someone who’s 75 can communicate with the youngsters,” Margaliot told AFP.

Dancyg has regularly lectured at Polish schools, with many of them now signing the petition for his release.

But to Margaliot, his “unique” communication skills have worked not only with children.

“I was raised in a home that, in a way you could say, was anti-Polish,” Margaliot said. “He changed my views from what I was raised in into this great friendship with Polish people.”

People walk near posters featuring Israelis being held hostage by Hamas in Gaza, outside the Defense Ministry in Tel Aviv, October 18, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Margaliot has teamed up with a broad network of friends that Dancyg had back in Poland.

One of them, radio journalist Marta Rebzda, also hailed the historian’s “magnetic personality,” speaking to AFP at a café in the former Jewish district in Warsaw.

They were joined by artist Dariusz Paczkowski who, despite having never met the historian in person, has spread his image in the public space.

“Alex doesn’t even have to do anything, he just is there,” Paczkowski said. “And people from different social circles gather around him.”

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