World Library  
Flag as Inappropriate
Email this Article

Hannah Szenes

Article Id: WHEBN0000225248
Reproduction Date:

Title: Hannah Szenes  
Author: World Heritage Encyclopedia
Language: English
Subject: Rudolf Kastner, Hanna's War, Eli, Eli, History of the Jews in Hungary, Ashkenazi Jews
Collection: 1921 Births, 1944 Deaths, 20Th-Century Executions for Treason, 20Th-Century Poets, 20Th-Century Women Writers, Burials at Mount Herzl, Executed Military Personnel, Executed Spies, Female Resistance Members of World War II, Hungarian Emigrants to Israel, Hungarian Jews, Hungarian People of World War II, Jewish Poets, Jewish Resistance Members, Jews in Mandatory Palestine, Kibbutzniks, Military Personnel Who Died in the Holocaust, Overturned Convictions, People Executed by Hungary by Firing Squad, People Executed for Treason Against Hungary, Special Operations Executive Personnel, Spies Who Died in the Holocaust, Torture Victims, Women Diarists, Women in World War II, Women Memoirists
Publisher: World Heritage Encyclopedia

Hannah Szenes

Hannah Szenes in a Hungarian army uniform as a Purim costume

Hannah Szenes (often anglicized as Hannah Senesh or Chana Senesh; Hebrew: חנה סנש‎; Hungarian: Szenes Anikó; July 17, 1921 – November 7, 1944) was one of 37 Jews from Mandatory Palestine parachuted 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 German death camp at Auschwitz.[1]

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.[1] She is regarded as a national heroine in Israel, where her poetry is widely known and the headquarters of the Zionist youth movements Israel Hatzeira, a kibbutz and several streets are named after her.


  • Early life 1
  • Immigrating to Nahalal 2
  • Arrest and torture 3
  • Trial and execution 4
  • Poetry, songs and plays 5
  • In popular culture 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • Bibliography 9
  • External links 10

Early life

Hannah Szenes and her brother, Budapest, 1924

Szenes was born on July 17, 1921, to an assimilated Jewish family in Hungary. Her father, Béla Szenes, a journalist and playwright, died when Hannah was six years old. She continued to live with her mother, Catherine, and her brother, György (Giora).

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, Senesh 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

Hannah Senesh, circa 1939

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 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[1] 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.[1] 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. Hannah 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.[2] 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 cruelly tortured, but she 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 held firm (and probably saved her mother's life as a result).[1]

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. She tried to keep their spirits up by singing, and through all the torment Szenes went through she still kept her spirit high and stayed true to her mission.

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.[3] 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."[1]

Szenes's gravestone

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.[4]

During the trial of Rudolf Kastner, Hannah's mother, Catherina Senesh, 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."[5]

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

A poster in memory of Hannah Szenes
Memorial to Hannah Szenes in Budapest

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 Halikha LeKesariya ("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, because it 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 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.

In popular culture

Blessed is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, directed by Roberta Grossman, is a documentary that recounts the events of Hannah's life. It was released in 2008.[6]

A film about Szenes' life entitled Hanna's War was released in 1988 and directed by Menahem Golan. She was portrayed by actress Maruschka Detmers.

A play about Szenes entitled The Legend of Hannah Senesh, authored by Aaron Megged, was produced and directed by Laurence Merrick at the Princess Theatre in Los Angeles in 1964. Szenes was played by Joan Huntington.

See also


  1. ^ a b c d e f Hecht, 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.
  2. ^ Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh (2008 film)
  3. ^
  4. ^ Tombstone of WWII poet and spy Hannah Szenes arrives in Israel Haaretz, 25 November 2007
  5. ^ Hecht, Ben. Perfidy. 1961, p. 132
  6. ^


  • Goldenberg, Linda. In Kindling Flame: The Story of Hannah Senesh, 1921-1944. New York: Lothrop, Lee & Shepard Books, 1985. ISBN 0688027148 OCLC 10302495
  • Gozlan, Martine, Hannah Szenes, l'étoile foudroyée. Paris: Ed. de l'Archipel, 2014. ISbn 9782809815818 OCLC 897806840 In French.
  • Hay, Peter. Ordinary Heroes: Chana Szenes and the Dream of Zion. G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1986. ISBN 0399131523 OCLC 13395114
  • Masters, Anthony. The Summer That Bled; The Biography of Hannah Senesh. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1972. OCLC 677086
  • Ransom, Candice F. So Young to Die: the Story of Hannah Senesh. Scholastic, 1993. ISBN 0590446770 OCLC 28137831
  • Senesh, Hannah, and Marge Piercy (foreword). Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary. Jewish Lights Publishing, 2004. ISBN 9781580233422 OCLC 269444258

External links

  • Video Lecture by Dr. Henry Abramson on Hannah Szenes
  • Teacher's Study Guide
  • Hannah Senesh Legacy foundation
  • Jewish Community Day School, Brooklyn, New York
  • Blessed Is The Match, a documentary film about Hannah
  • Blessed Is The Match at Women Make Movies
  • Hannah Szenes Biography at J-Grit: The Internet Index of Tough Jews
  • Hannah Szenes: Poet, Hero, Martyr: Video lecture on Hannah Szenesh by Dr. Henry Abramson
  • Hannah Szenes on's list of famous Hungarian Jews
This article was sourced from Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License; additional terms may apply. World Heritage Encyclopedia content is assembled from numerous content providers, Open Access Publishing, and in compliance with The Fair Access to Science and Technology Research Act (FASTR), Wikimedia Foundation, Inc., Public Library of Science, The Encyclopedia of Life, Open Book Publishers (OBP), PubMed, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Center for Biotechnology Information, U.S. National Library of Medicine, National Institutes of Health (NIH), U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, and, which sources content from all federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial government publication portals (.gov, .mil, .edu). Funding for and content contributors is made possible from the U.S. Congress, E-Government Act of 2002.
Crowd sourced content that is contributed to World Heritage Encyclopedia is peer reviewed and edited by our editorial staff to ensure quality scholarly research articles.
By using this site, you agree to the Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. World Heritage Encyclopedia™ is a registered trademark of the World Public Library Association, a non-profit organization.

Copyright © World Library Foundation. All rights reserved. eBooks from Project Gutenberg are sponsored by the World Library Foundation,
a 501c(4) Member's Support Non-Profit Organization, and is NOT affiliated with any governmental agency or department.