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October 16, 1981 - Image 72

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 1981-10-16

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12 Friday, October 16, 19131


Hannah Senesh: Portrait of a Jewish Heroine


World Zionist Press Service

Senesh would have been 60
this year had she not been
shot in 1944 by the Ger-
mans, at the age of 23. She is

Israel's national heroine,
with scores of streets, for-
ests, ships and settlements
named after her. Most
schoolchildren can recite
her famous poem, "Blessed
is the Match," written when
she was with the partisans
in Yugoslavia. She has been
called the Joan of Arc of the
Jewish people.
She came from the same

middle-class background as

did Theodor Herzl, the un-
likely founder of Zionism as
a world movement. Her

father, Bela Szenes, was the
well-known playwright and
coly,innist who died when
Hannah was six and her
older brother, George, se-
ven. In her diaries, which
she began at 13, Hannah
always showed a desire to be
a writer. Her mother,
Catherine, recounts how
Hannah was unjustly de-
prived of an elected position
in her seventh grade liter-
ary society because of the
growing climate of anti-
Semitism in Hungary.
A year later, there is this
almost casual entry in her
diary: "I
don't know
whether I've already men-
tioned that I have become a
Zionist." This was not a
fashionable concept in the

Hungary of 1938 where
Jewish leaders continued to

proclaim their loyalty to a
country allied with Hitler.
To the end they believed
that they could survive the
European Holocaust that
finally engulfed them —
and Hannah — in 1944.

She began to learn He-
brew and spent every
waking thought on how
to get to Palestine. She
got her certificate for
emigration four days
after her 18th birthday,
following acceptance by
the Nahalal Girls' Ag-
ricultural School. The
idea of traveling alone

into the unknown might
have daunted others, but
Hannah's joy is only tem-
pered by the sorrow she
would cause her mother,
whom she loved more
than anybody in the

She wrote in her diary:
"For me _ the important

thing is aliya." She arrived
in Eretz Yisrael on Sept. 19,

1939, eight days before Nazi
Germany swallowed Po-
land: "I am in Nahalal, in

Eretz. I am home."

She was often homesick
and lonely, with an inner
isolation that would not go
away. What kept her going
was the certainty that "I
had done the right thing.
This is where my life's am-
bition — I might even say
my vocation — binds me;
because I would like to feel
that by being here I am ful-
filling a mision ..."
Meanwhile, her life con-
sisted of back-breaking,
monotonous labor in the
dairy, in the laundry, in the

orchards of the Emek Val-
ley. Cut off from the im-
pending catastrophe in
Europe she was growing
fearful for George, studying
in France, and for her
mother in Budapest.

After two years at the
school Hannah chose to
join Kibutz Sdot-Yam, a
group of young idealists
who planned to settle
near Caesarea, the an-
cient Roman port on the
Sea of Galilee.
The next few months she
worked day and night. Dur-
ing her years in the kibutz,
she thought about joining
the British Army or, a more
relevant alternative to cure
her feelings of helplessness,
the Palmach, the striking
force of the Hagana Jewish
self-defense units.
In January 1943, with
Hitler's "Final Solution"
program in full swing, she
was "suddenly struck by the
idea of going to Hungary. I
feel I must be there during
these days in order to help
organize youth emigration,
– ,

Hannah Senesh, who tried to save Hungarian

and also to get my mother
During a chance conver-
sation six weeks later Han-
nah learned that the Pal-
mach was organizing a unit
for just such a mission. In
her usual way, she totally
immersed herself in the
idea. But it took a whole
year of waiting, preparing
and training before she left
for Egypt in British uni-
form. She managed to delay
departure for a day to meet
George in Haifa where he
had just managed to arrive.
The parachute com-
mando group consisted
of 31 men and Hannah. In
early March they were
flown to liberated Italy
and from there dropped
into Nazi-occupied
Yugoslavia. Hannah al-
ways volunteered to
jump first. If she was af-
raid, she tried not to show
Within a week of joining
the partisans in the Yugos-
lav mountains, news
reached them that the Ger-
mans had occupied Hun-
gary. From that moment
Hannah knew no rest.
During the three months
that Hannah and her group
spent with the partisans,
Adolf Eichmann and his
Hungarian collaborators
deported almost 300,000
Jews. Each day 12,000 were
taken by freight-cars
towards Auschwitz where
90 percent were murdered
immediately. The Germans
were losing the war except
against innocent and de-
fenseless Jews.
In the course of these
weeks of utter frustration,
Hannah changed from the
laughing, singing, seem-
ingly carefree- young girl
she had been. One of her
close comrades on the mis-
sion, Yoel Palgi, noticed
how "her eyes no longer
sparkled. She was cold,
sharp, her reasoning now
razor-edged; she no longer

trusted strangers. She was

the first to suspect the par-
tisans of unwillingness to
help and of misleading us."

On June 7, Hannah
crossed the border on
foot into Hungary, as-
sisted not by trained par-
tisans or one of the five
others in her section, but
by two frightened Jewish
youths and a French
prisoner of war who had
escaped the Germans.
Hannah's one-woman ef-
fort to save Hungarian
Jewry was under way.
Everything went wrong
very quickly. The two Hun-
garian youths were picked
up for questioning. One of
them committed suicide
which prompted the Ger-
'mans to comb the coun-
tryside. They came upon

mother for forgiveness.:.
Then she was taken into the
courtyard and tied to a
stake. Simon offered a
blindfold. She scornfully re-
When Captain Simon told
Catherine that Hannah's
sentence had been carried
out, he blurted out: "I must
pay tribute to your daugh-
ter's exceptional courage
and strength of character,
both of which she main-
tained until her very last
moment." Then he added
with puzzled admiration,
"She was truly proud of
being a Jew."
Catherine -survived the
fascist reign of terror and .
after the war she joined
George in Palestine. Both
live now in Haifa. In 1950
the remains of Hannah
Senesh were taken from the
martyrs' section of the
Jewish cemetery in
Budapest to Mount Herzl
where a grateful state of Is-
rael gave her a hero's fun-
eral and lasting memorial.
In June 1942, Hannah
had written in her diary a
quote from the Jewish
writer Hazaa: "All the
darkness can't extinguish a
single candle, yet one can-
dle can illuminate all its
darkness." Hannah's life
was such a candle. -

Hannah and her French instruct Catherine in He-
companion pretending to be brew with sign language
lovers. Under questioning from her window, making
and torture, Hannah did not dolls and presents for little
reveal the code for her radio children in the prison, who
clung to her. Her strength
Taken under guard to and courage were infecti-
Budapest, the city which ous.
Hannah was tried for
she had dreamed so often
about returning to, she tried treason. The judges were
to hurl herself from the divided and postponed a
decision for eight days.
In the next few days she During those days, the
was beaten and tortured Germans and Hungarian
almost continuously. She military began to
only gave her name and evacuate their offices
number. The worst day and leave the capital be-
fore the Soviet forces. As
came on June 17. A police
Blessed Is the Match
Catherine ran from office
detective called on Han-
to office looking for
nah's mother, Catherine,
is the match con-
somebody in charge, a
for a routine summons. At
military headquarters she
in kindling flame.
Hannah's cell to inform
was persistently interro-
her about a death sen- Blessed is the flame that
gated about her children's
tence. Unless she ap-
whereabouts. They were
in the secret fastness
pealed for clemency, she
safe, she replied, thank God,
of the heart.
had one hour to prepare.
in Palestine.
Four guards led Han-
This was a lie; the court Blessed is the heart with
strength to stop
nah in, barely recogniza-
had made no decision.
its beating for honor's
ble even to her mother
Hannah was not the kind
after an absence of al-
of person to ask for mercy.
is the match con-
most five years. She flew
She wrote some final let-
into Catherine's arms
ters, one of them asking her sumed in kindling flame.
and kept sobbing:
"Mother, please forgive
me!" All Catherine could
think of was, "Why?
Why?" The interrogators
wanted to know the same
thing and hoped
Catherine would use her
maternal influence on the
stubborn Hannah.
Soon Catherine too was
arrested and for several
months held in the same
jail, separated from her
• i•
daughter. Meanwhile, two
of Hannah's companions,
Yoel Palgi and Peretz Gold-
stein, made it to Budapest,
where they got in touch
with the Jewish leadership,
including the controversial
Kasztner, who was busy
negotiating with Eichrnann
to save 'a special consign-
ment of 1,700 out of one mil-
lion Jews.
For weeks Palgi went to
the pre-arranged meeting
Jews of Sandor village in Iraqi Kurdistan are
place in the fading hope that
shown in a 1930s photograph.
Hagar — Hannah's code
name — would show up.
life of Kurdish Jews: the
By July 9, after 437,402 rael Museum has opened an synagogue, the home and
Jews had been transported exhibit on the Jews of Kur- the market.
from the country to Au- distan, based on photo-
Kurdistan is divided be-
schwitz, only Budapest graphs and artifacts col-
tween Iraq, Iran, Turkey,
Jewry remained. Under lected during the last seven
Syria and Russia.
Hungarian jurisdiction, years.
Hannah was considered a
Museum curators inter-
Scholars believe the Kur-
British prisoner of war. She viewed Kurdish Jews in 50
dish Jews are "the lost ones
kept herself busy and even villages in Israel and visited
in thd land of Assyria"
cheerful, teaching her Iranian Kurdistan in 1977.
(Isaiah 27:13), with a.
cellmates about Zionism The exhibit focusses on
2,700-year tradition dating
and Palestine, offering to three main centers of daily
to the First Temple period.

Museum Opens Exhibit
on Jews of Kurdistan

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