In Israel, the shockwaves from the violent actions of Palestinian Hamas militants from Gaza are still being felt. With over 1,400 people killed and more than a 100 taken hostage, this horrific attack has sent ripples through not just the Middle East, but also central and eastern Europe, known for its deep Jewish connections and painful memories of the Holocaust.
Among the hostages is a man whose absence has brought particular anguish and sorrow, one Alex Danzig. A scholar and historian with expertise about the Holocaust, Danzig dedicated three decades of his life to educating both Jews and Poles about the historical atrocities perpetrated during World War Two. His work took place at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust remembrance centre.
Despite his crucial role in preserving and transmitting history, Danzig lived a life of risk in the Nir Oz kibbutz in southern Israel, located alarmingly close to Gaza. His family lost all contact with him on October 7, when the chilling wave of attacks began.
The circumstances of Danzig’s life add to the bitter irony of his present plight. While he was born in post-war Poland, his sister, Edith, survived the horrors of the Holocaust. Through the remarkable act of Polish mother-daughter duo, Maria and Halina Assanowicz, Edith found refuge from the Nazi persecutors. The Assanowiczes, bestowed with Israel’s highest honor for non-Jewish saviours of Jews in the Holocaust in 1982, also played a part in Danzig’s existence and survival.
His early life in Poland was followed by a move to Israel in 1957, where he fought in several wars, joined a left-wing youth organisation, started a family, and eventually became deeply involved in Holocaust studies following an emotive visit to Auschwitz. Through this long journey, Danzig’s influence on education about Polish-Jewish relations and the Holocaust has been profound and far-reaching.
However, the same dedication took him back to the land close to the volatile borders of Israel, where he was taken captive by Hamas attackers. His son, Mati, opens a window into the horrifying day, filled with terror and uncertainty. Mati and his family, who also live in Nir Oz, survived, describing their escape as a kind of divine luck.
While his family remains safe, Alex Danzig’s fate hangs in the balance. Known to have serious health concerns and without his essential medication, the stakes are high. His sudden disappearance has resulted in widespread calls for his release, not only in Israel but also in Poland, where the #StandwithAlex campaign is gaining momentum.
While the efforts to rescue Danzig continue unabated, his past remains a testament to his unyielding spirit and deep commitment to the memory of Holocaust victims. His life, a testament to human resilience in the face of adversity, now rests in the hands of fate – a narrative carrying greater irony and relevance amid the ongoing turmoil.