Through her brief but noteworthy life, Senesh became a symbol of idealism and self-sacrifice. Her poems, made famous in part because of her unfortunate death, reveal a woman imbued with hope, even in the face of adverse circumstances.
Senesh (born July 17, 1921; died November 7, 1944) was born in Budapest, Hungary as the daughter of an author and journalist. She demonstrated her own literary talent from an early age, and she kept a diary from age 13 until shortly before her death. Although her family was assimilated, anti-Semitic sentiment in Budapest led her to involvement in Zionist activities, and she left Hungary for Eretz Yisrael in 1939. She studied first at an agricultural school, and then settled at Kibbutz Sdot Yam. While there she wrote poetry, as well as a play about kibbutz life.
In 1943, Senesh joined the British Army and volunteered to be parachuted into Europe. The purpose of this operation was to help the Allied efforts in Europe and establish contact with partisan resistance fighters in an attempt to aid beleaguered Jewish communities. Senesh trained in Egypt and was one of the thirty-three people chosen to parachute behind enemy lines. With the goal of reaching her native Budapest, Senesh parachuted into Yugoslavia in March 1944, and spent three months with Titos partisans. Her idealism and commitment to her cause are memorialized in her poem Blessed is the Match, which she wrote at this time.
On June 7, 1944, at the height of the deportation of Hungarian Jews, Senesh crossed the border into Hungary.
She was caught almost immediately by the Hungarian police, and tortured cruelly and repeatedly over the next several months. Despite these conditions, Senesh refused to divulge any information about her mission. Even the knowledge that her mother was at risk and that she too might be harmed did not compel Senesh to cooperate with the police. At her trial in October 1944, Senesh staunchly defended her activities and she refused to request clemency. Throughout her ordeal she remained steadfast in her courage, and when she was executed by a firing squad on November 7, she refused the blindfold, staring squarely at her executors and her fate. Senesh was only 23 years old.
The following poem was found in Hannah's death cell after her execution:
One - two - three... eight feet long
Two strides across, the rest is dark...
Life is a fleeting question mark
One - two - three... maybe another week.
Or the next month may still find me here,
But death, I feel is very near.
I could have been 23 next July
I gambled on what mattered most, the dice were cast. I lost.
In 1950, Senesh’s remains were brought to Israel and re-interred at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.
Her diary and literary works were later published, and many of her more popular poems have been set to music. The best known of these is “Towards Caesarea," more popularly known today as "My God, My God" with a melody created by David Zahavi and sung by artists including Ofra Haza, Regina Spektor, and Sophie Milman.
Senesh has also been the subject of several artistic works, including a play by Aharon Megged.
Hannah Szenes (often anglicized as Hannah Senesh or Chanah Senesh; Hebrew: חנה סנש; Hungarian: Szenes Anikó; July 17, 1921 – November 7, 1944) was a poet and Special Operations Executive (SOE) paratrooper. She was one of 37 Jewish parachutists of Mandate Palestineparachuted by the British Army into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to the Germandeath camp at Auschwitz.
Szenes was arrested at the Hungarian border, then imprisoned and tortured, but refused to reveal details of her mission. She was eventually tried and executed by firing squad. She is regarded as a national heroine in Israel, where her poetry is widely known and the headquarters of the Zionist youth movementsIsrael Hatzeira, a kibbutz and several streets are named after her.
Szenes was born on July 17, 1921, to an assimilated Jewish family in Hungary. Her father, Béla, a journalist and playwright, died when Hannah was six years old. She continued to live with her mother, Katalin, and her brother, György.
She enrolled in a Protestant private school for girls that also accepted Catholic and Jewish pupils; most of those of the Jewish faith had to pay three times the amount Catholics paid. However, Szenes only had to pay twice the regular tuition because she was considered a "Gifted Student". This, along with the realization that the situation of the Jews in Hungary was becoming precarious, prompted Szenes to embrace Zionism, and she joined Maccabea, a Hungarian Zionist students organization.
Immigrating to Nahalal
Szenes graduated in 1939 and decided to emigrate to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine in order to study in the Girls' Agricultural School at Nahalal. In 1941, she joined KibbutzSdot Yam and then joined the Haganah, the paramilitary group that laid the foundation of the Israel Defense Forces.
In 1943, she enlisted in the British Army in the Women's Auxiliary Air Force as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class and began her training in Egypt as a paratrooper for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).
Arrest and torture
On March 14, 1944, she and colleagues Yoel Palgi and Peretz Goldstein were parachuted into Yugoslavia and joined a partisan group. After landing, they learned the Germans had already occupied Hungary, so the men decided to call off the mission as too dangerous.
Szenes continued on and headed for the Hungarian border. At the border, she and her companions were arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, who found her British military transmitter, used to communicate with the SOE and other partisans. She was taken to a prison, stripped, tied to a chair, then whipped and clubbed for three days. She lost several teeth as a result of the beating.
The guards wanted to know the code for her transmitter so they could find out who the parachutists were and trap others. Transferred to a Budapest prison, Szenes was repeatedly interrogated and tortured, but only revealed her name and refused to provide the transmitter code, even when her mother was also arrested. They threatened to kill her mother if she did not cooperate, but she refused.
While in prison, Szenes used a mirror to flash signals out of the window to prisoners in other cells and communicated using large cut-out letters that she placed in her cell window one at a time and by drawing the Magen David in the dust.
Trial and execution
She was tried for treason on October 28, 1944. There was an eight-day postponement to give the judges more time to find a verdict, followed by another postponement, this one because of the appointment of a new Judge Advocate. She was executed by a German firing squad on November 7, 1944.
She kept diary entries until her last day. One of them read: "In the month of July, I shall be twenty-three/I played a number in a game/The dice have rolled. I have lost," and another: "I loved the warm sunlight."
Her diary was published in Hebrew in 1946. Her remains were brought to Israel in 1950 and buried in the cemetery on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. Her tombstone was brought to Israel in November 2007 and placed in Sdot Yam.
During the trial of Rudolf Kastner, Hannah's mother testified that during the time her daughter was imprisoned, Kastner's people had advised her not to obtain a lawyer for her daughter. Further, she recalled a conversation with Kastner after the war, telling him, "I don't say that you could have saved my daughter Hannah, but that you didn't try – it makes it harder for me that nothing was done."
After the Cold War, a Hungarian military court officially exonerated her. Her kin in Israel were informed on November 5, 1993.
Poetry, songs and plays
Szenes was a poet and playwright, writing both in Hungarian and Hebrew. The following are four of her better known poems. The best known of these is "A Walk to Caesarea", commonly known as Eli, Eli ("My God, My God"). The well-known melody was composed by David Zahavi. Many singers have sung it, including Ofra Haza, Regina Spektor, and Sophie Milman. It was used to close some versions of the film Schindler's List:
- My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
- The sand and the sea,
- The rustle of the waters,
- Lightning of the Heavens,
- The prayer of Man.
- אלי, אלי, שלא יגמר לעולם
- החול והים
- רשרוש של המים
- ברק השמים
- תפילת האדם
Another of her poems begins,
- A voice called, and I went.
- I went, for a voice called.
The following lines are from the last poem she wrote, "Ashrei Hagafrur", after she was parachuted into a partisan camp in Yugoslavia:
- ,אַשְׁרֵי הַגַּפְרוּר שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף וְהִצִּית לֶהָבוֹת
- .אַשְׁרֵי הַלְּהָבָה שֶׁבָּעֲרָה בְּסִתְרֵי לְבָבוֹת
- ...אַשְׁרֵי הַלְבָבוֹת שֶׁיָדְעוּ לַחְדוֹל בְּכָבוֹד
- .אַשְׁרֵי הַגַּפְרוּר שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף וְהִצִּית לֶהָבוֹת
- Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
- Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.
- Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honour's sake.
- Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.
The following lines were found in Hannah's death cell after her execution:
- One—two—three ... eight feet long,
- Two strides across, the rest is dark ...
- Life hangs over me like a question mark.
- One—two—three ... maybe another week,
- Or next month may still find me here,
- But death, I feel, is very near.
- I could have been twenty-three next July;
- I gambled on what mattered most,
- The dice were cast. I lost.
In popular culture
- חנה סנש: חייה, שליחותה ומותה, in Hebrew. 1952.
- Diario, cartas, iniciación literaria, misión y muerte, memorias de la madre, 1966. in Spanish. 396 pages.
- Hannah Senesh, Her Life & Diary, Schocken Books, 1972.
- Masters, Anthony. The Summer That Bled; The Biography of Hannah Senesh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1972. OCLC 677086
- Goldenberg, Linda. In Kindling Flame: The Story of Hannah Senesh, 1921-1944. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1985. ISBN 0688027148OCLC 10302495
- Hay, Peter. Ordinary Heroes: Chana Szenes and the Dream of Zion. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1986. ISBN 0399131523OCLC 13395114
- Whitman, Ruth. The Testing of Hannah Senesh Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1986. ISBN 0814318533
- Maxine Rose Schur, Hannah Szenes: A Song of Light, Philadelphia, 1986. ISBN 0827606281
- Betzer, Oded. The Paratrooper Who Didn't Return. World Zionist Organization, 1989.
- Ransom, Candice F. So Young to Die: the Story of Hannah Senesh. Scholastic, 1993. ISBN 0590446770OCLC 28137831
- Senesh, Hannah, and Marge Piercy (foreword). Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004. ISBN 9781580233422OCLC 269444258
- Gozlan, Martine, Hannah Szenes, l'étoile foudroyée. Paris: Ed. de l'Archipel, 2014. ISBN 9782809815818OCLC 897806840 In French.
- ^ abcdefHecht, Ben. Perfidy, first published by Julian Messner, 1961; this edition Milah Press, 1997, pp. 118-133. Hecht cites Bar Adon, Dorothy and Pessach. The Seven who Fell. Sefer Press, 1947, and "The Return of Hanna Senesh" in Pioneer Woman, XXV, No. 5, May 1950.
- ^Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh (2008 film)
- ^Baumel-Schwartz, Judith Tydor (2010). Perfect heroes: the World War II parachutists and the making of Israeli collective memory. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 30. ISBN 978-0-299-23484-3.
- ^Tombstone of WWII poet and spy Hannah Szenes arrives in Israel, Haaretz, 25 November 2007.
- ^Hecht, Ben. Perfidy. 1961, p. 132
- ^"Poems, by Hannah Senesh". The Jewish Week. December 22, 2010. Archived from the original on 2 March 2016. Retrieved 21 January 2016.
- ^Hannah Senesh: Her Life & Diary (paperback ed.). New York: Schocken Books. 1973. p. 256. ISBN 0-8052-0410-5.
- ^Hannah Senesh: Her Life & Diary (paperback ed.). New York: Schocken Books. 1973. p. 257. ISBN 0-8052-0410-5.
- ^"Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh (2008)". Internet Movie Database. IMDb. Retrieved 1 January 2015.