Hannah Senesh

Hannah Szenes – a Poet and a Heroine

Chanah SeneshHannah Szenes is one of the great heroines of pre-state Israel. Born in Hungary on July 17, 1921, she came to Palestine as a young woman. A poet and a volunteer British paratrooper during the period of the British mandate in Palestine, she was one of 37 Palestinian Jewish volunteers parachuted by the British on March 14, 1944, into Yugoslavia to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported by the German occupiers to the death camp at Auschwitz.

At the Hungarian border, she was arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, who found her military transmitter used to communicate with the British. She was taken to a prison, stripped and tortured. Despite her ordeal, she refused to reveal details of her mission. She was tried for treason on October 28, 1944, found guilty, and was executed by a German firing squad on November 7, 1944. She was only 23 years old.

Her poetry has lived on after her in Israel, Her best known poem, “Eli, Eli” (My God, My God) was set to soulful music and has been sung by some of Israel’s most prominent singers. Her diary was published in Hebrew in 1946. A kibbutz and several streets in Israel have been named after her.

Szenes’ remains were brought to Israel in 1950 and buried in the national cemetery on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. Her Hungarian tombstone was brought to Israel in November 2007 and placed in Sdot Yam, the kibbutz where she lived. After the Cold War, a Hungarian military court officially exonerated her.

Films and a play about the life of the beloved Hannah Szenes have been produced. The name of one film, “”Blessed Is the Match,” is taken from the last poem she wrote.