I discovered Hannah Senesh only a couple of weeks ago thanks to my friend John Wilkinson who posted a memorial on his Facebook page.
Hannah was born on July 17th 1921 in Budapest to an assimilated Jewish family. Her father Bela was a playwright and journalist, he passed away when Hannah was six years old. Her mother Katherine and her brother Gyorgy were her only family. She was enrolled in a protestant private school for girls which also took Catholic and Jewish students provided they paid extra exorbitant fees for the privilege. This and the developing plight of the Jews in Hungary led her to join the Zionists student’s organization.
Hannah was eighteen when she graduated in 1939 and emigrated to Palestine (then known as The British Mandate of Palestine). She studied at the girl’s agricultural school at Nahalal. Two years later she joined the paramilitary group, Hagenah and in 1943 she enlisted in the British Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. Later that year Hannah joined the Special operations executive (SOE)
On March 14th 1944 Hannah and her colleagues parachuted into Yugoslavia and joined a partisan group. However, because the Germans had already occupied Hungary the mission was called off. The plan had been to rescue Hungarian Jews before they were taken to the gas chambers. Not to be beaten Hannah and her colleagues headed to the Hungarian border where they were arrested by Hungarian gendarmes who discovered her British military transmitter.
Hannah was taken to prison where the Nazi’s brutally beat and punished her for three days but she would not reveal the code for her transmitter or the identity of the parachutists. They even arrested her mother and threatened to kill her if she did not cooperate. Hannah was tried and found guilty of treason but didn’t betray her cause and was loyal to the end.
Not to be defeated, while she was in prison Hannah used a mirror to flash signals out of the window to prisoners in other cells and also communicated with large cut out letters which she placed one at a time in her window. Whenever she was able, she would draw the star of David in the dust.
Hannah was executed by firing squad on November 7th 1944. Her remains were returned to Israel in 1950. After the Cold War the Hungarian Military Court officially exonerated her. Hannah had written the following in her diary, “In the month of July I shall be twenty-three/I played a number in a game/the dice have rolled. I have lost.”
Akin to her father Hannah had also been a playwright and a poet writing in both Hungarian and Hebrew. One of her poems Eli, Eli, (“My God My God”) was put to music and sung to close some versions of the movie Schindler’s List. The lyrics are:-
My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of waters,
Lightning in the Heavens,
The Prayer of Man.
In Brooklyn N.Y. there is a K-8 (Kindergarten to Grade 8) Community Day School named in her honour.
Hannah! You boldly and bravely packed a lifetime into your 23 years. We Salute you!