Hannah Szenes, Jewish hero, poet, paratrooper…

On November 7, the 63rd anniversary of Hannah Szenes’ execution by a firing squad in Hungary, her nephew Eitan Szenes finished a four-year campaign to bring her gravestone from Hungary to Israel. The marker stood at Hannah Szenes’ grave in Budapest‘s Jewish cemetery. Now, 57 years after Szenes’ body was reinterred in Israel, the gravestone has followed, with the help of the Defense Ministry.


It was placed at Hannah Szenes’ kibbutz, Sdot Yam, next to the Hannah Szenes House. A platoon of paratroopers stood behind the modest headstone, which bears a relief of a woman in Szenes’ poem “Happy is the Match.” Minister without Portfolio Ami Ayalon, whose uncle Yona Rosen enlisted Szenes to parachute into Yugoslavia during World War II, the mission that led to her arrest and execution, says the Szenes House should pay tribute to “a legacy whose essence is civil leadership, the relations between the individual and the collective and our role in this world. ‘A voice called out to me and I went,’ said Hannah Szenes. This is her legacy.”

“When the Red Army occupied Budapest, Hannah Szenes’ mother, Katrina, could at long last visit her daughter’s grave,” relates Dr. Anna Szalai, a specialist on Hungarian art and literature. “Only one Christian man knew the exact location of Szenes’ grave in Budapest‘s Jewish cemetery, and he led her mother to her burial site, in the martyrs’ section. After the mother found the grave, she decided to erect a tombstone, and asked a well-known sculptor to make it.” However, Katrina Szenes immigrated to Israel and passed away before she could see the tombstone be put in place.

In 1950, Hannah Szenes’ remains were brought to Israel. “This was an impressive journey that took nearly a week,” says Eitan Szenes. “The coffin left Budapest, via Vienna to the port of Trieste in Italy, where it was transferred to a navy ship. There were ceremonies at the Haifa port, in Tel Aviv and the National Institutions building in Jerusalem. Finally, she was reburied on Mount Herzl. Along the way a ceremony was held at Sdot Yam, in front of the building that had just been erected in her memory.”

The sea winds have taken their toll on the Hannah Szenes house. Nowadays it attracts no more than 15,000 visitors a year. The Hannah Senesh (Szenes) Legacy Foundation and the Sdot Yam paratroopers want the place to be redone, and a new exhibition wing added.

“The gravestone has come home, but Hannah’s spiritual materials are still seeking a home, a safe place to dwell, which has not been found 60 years after Israel‘s independence,” says her nephew David Szenes.

Members of Hannah Szenes’ family and the kibbutz members hope that the tombstone’s arrival will help boost the parachutist-poet’s legacy – her rich archive still has not found a home.

Dr. Szalai adds, “The myth becomes lifeless at a certain stage. Nevertheless, Hannah Szenes’s life was vibrant and full of content, thought, emotions, a sense of mission, the crisis of immigration, absorption and education – all of this vanishes from the figure in the myth.”



Hannah Szenes

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

Hannah Szenes (or Chana Senesh) (July 17, 1921November 7, 1944) was a Hungarian Jew, one of 37 Jews living in Palestine, now Israel, who were trained by the British army to parachute into Yugoslavia during the Second World War in order to help save the Jews of Hungary, who were about to be deported to the German death camp at Auschwitz.[1]Szenes was arrested at the Hungarian border, imprisoned and tortured, but she refused to reveal details of her mission, and was eventually tried and executed by firing squad.[1] She is regarded as a national heroine in Israel, where streets are named after her and her poetry is widely known.

//Early life

Szenes was born to an assimilated Jewish family in Hungary. Her father, Béla, a journalist and playwright, died when she was six years old. She continued to live with her mother, Katrina, and her brother, Giora.She enrolled in a Protestant private school for girls, that accepted – for increased tuitionCatholic and Jewish pupils. This, along with the realization that the situation of the Jews in Hungary was becoming precarious, prompted Szenes to embrace Judaism. She announced to her friends that she had become a Jew,[1] and joined Maccabea, a Hungarian Zionist students organization.

Move 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 Kibbutz Sdot 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 and began her training in Egypt as a paratrooper for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

Arrest and torture

In March 1944, she and two male colleagues, Yoel Palgi and Peretz Goldstein,[1] were parachuted into Yugoslavia and joined a partisan group. After landing, they learned the Germans had already invaded Hungary, so the men decided to call off the mission as too dangerous.[1] Szenes continued alone and headed for the Hungarian border. At the border, she was arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, who found the British military transmitter she was carrying, which was to be used to communicate with the SOE and with other partisans. She was taken to a prison in Budapest, tied to a chair, stripped, then whipped and clubbed for several hours. The guards wanted to know the code for her transmitter so they could find out who the other parachutists were. She did not tell them, even when they brought her mother into the cell and threatened to torture her too.[1]While in jail, Szenes used a mirror to flash signals out of the window to the Jewish prisoners in other cells, and communicated with them using large cut-out letters in Hebrew that she placed in her window one at a time, and by drawing the Magen David in the dust. She tried to keep their spirits up by singing.

Trial and execution

She was tried for treason on October 28, 1944. There was an eight-day postponment to give the judges more time to find a verdict, followed by another postponment, this one due to the appointment of a new Judge Advocate. She was executed by a firing squad before the judges had returned a verdict. She kept diary entries until her last day, November 7, 1944. 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.”[1]Szenes’s gravestoneHer 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.[2]After the Cold War, a Hungarian military court officially exonerated her. Her kin in Israel were informed on November 5, 1993.

Poetry and plays

Szenes was a poet and playwright writing both in Hungarian and Hebrew. The following are four of her better known poems or songs. The best known of these is Halikha LeKesariya (“A Walk to Caesarea“), commonly known as Eli, Eli (“My God, My God”). Many singers have sung it, including 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 rush of the waters, The crash of the Heavens, The prayer of Man. אלי, אלי, שלא יגמר לעולם החול והים רישרוש של המים ברק השמים תפילת האדם The voice called, and I went. I went, because the voice called. The following lines are the last song she wrote after she was parachuted into a partisan camp in Yugoslavia: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 honor’s sake. Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame. The following lines were found in Hanna’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.

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