NYU professor reflects on naturalization processPosted on October 10, 2013 | by Utpala Menon
When Tisch professor Kenneth Dancyger and his wife Ida stepped up to be naturalized as U.S. citizens Sept. 17, one could barely notice the groundbreaking history behind that moment.
Dancyger, who has been a professor for the Tisch School of the Arts since 1991, is a Holocaust survivor. He was born in 1945, within the military barracks of a German concentration camp, Bergen-Belsen. Less than three years later, Dancyger migrated to Canada with his parents.
The family of three, along with a few other refugees, lived in a community of survivors in Toronto for nearly five years before leaving the area and assimilating into the Canadian community.
Known as the “miracle baby,” Dancyger lived among Holocaust survivors until he was 8 years old, with barely any exposure to the Canadian way of life. Dancyger’s Jewish upbringing, however, did not ensure his knowledge of where he came from and the conditions into which he was born.
“I think what needs to be said is that the survivors didn’t really talk to their children [about the Holocaust],” Dancyger said. “As a child, you picked up on certain things. You knew it was different because you didn’t have any aunts and uncles or grandparents, and the world was different, but you didn’t know why.”
Among the things Dancyger learned were small yet powerful stories, such as his father becoming a barber in a steam bath at a Labor Camp in 1943 and his mother working at a munitions factory in Eastern Poland. Only recently has Dancyger learned details and pieced together his story.
While applying for a green card in Montreal, the Dancygers faced rejection because they lacked birth documents. This rejection led his wife to start communicating with the local museum at Bergen-Belsen. The authorities provided them with a list of German survivors as of September 1945, which included Dancyger and his parents.
“We kept digging until 2009, when I was invited to Bergen-Belsen for a commemoration of the start of the war,” Dancyger said. “They showed me the daycare center, the hospital … and it was amazing, just amazing.”
“Then I asked, ‘How could I have survived for the month?’ For I was born in a month when 18,500 people died in the camp, including Anne Frank, who died a week after I was born,” he said.
Dancyger primarily identifies himself as Canadian, but he is enthusiastic about the naturalization process because it gives him a choice — something his parents never had.
Shortly after arriving at NYU in the early 1990s, Dancyger became the chair of the Institute of Undergraduate Film and Television. Although he is not in the position anymore, he is still a full-time professor at NYU and has authored a number of books, such as “Broadcast Writing,” “Alternative Scriptwriting,” “The Technique of Film and Video Editing” and “Writing the Short Film.”
Dancyger’s journey to learn about his family’s past has affected not only his personal ideals but also his goals and skills as a professor.
“I always try to give my students a clear sense of information. How you overcome obstacles is to feel that empowerment, and empowerment comes from information,” Dancyger said. “I try to empower the writers, producers and directors because that’s the way to overcome the small injustices of the world.”
A version of this article appeared in the Thursday, Oct. 10 print edition. Utpala Menon is a staff writer. Email her at email@example.com.