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Biography - Hannah Senesh (Hannah Szenes)

Biography - Hannah Senesh

Hannah Senesh (Chana Senesh) in British UniformHannah Senesh †(or Chana Szenes) (Born: July 17, 1921; Executed: November 7, 1944 ) was a Palestinian Jew born in Hungary, who volunteered to parachute into occupied Hungary for the British army. Senesh came from an assimilated Hungarian Jewish family and studied at a Protestant school open to Catholics and Jews. Meeting anti-Semitism there, she joined the Maccabea group while in high school. After she graduated† in 1939, she came on Aliya to mandate Palestine. She trained in an agricultural school in Nahalal and then joined Kibbutz Sdot Yam in 1941. She also joined the Haganah.† In 1943 she enlisted in the British army. The Jewish Yishuv in Palestine had been aware, since 1942 of the ongoing murder of European Jewry and had been pleading with the British to set up rescue commandos. In particular, Enzo Sereni played a role in convincing the British of the need for such units.

Hannah Senesh had had the same idea. She had written in her diary:

''Suddenly, the idea grabbed me that I must go to Hungary, and be there during these days, To lend a hand to the ''Aliyat Ha'noar'' organization and also to bring out my possible and vital and I decided to rise and act'' (8.1.43)

Then her wish came true. The British finally consented to form these units, in the framework of the SOE (Special Operations Units also known as the "Baker Street Irregulars").

Hannah Senesh wrote in her diary:

''Weird things happen at times. A month ago I wrote a few words in my diary about the sudden idea that grabbed me, and just a few days ago a member of the Palmach visited here... and during a conversation we held, he told me that a ''Palmach'' unit is being organized that was designated to do... exactly what I felt ought to be done then. The coincidence is eerie'' (22.2.43)

†In 1944 Senesh began† paratrooper training in Egypt. She was one of about 250 members of the Palestine Jewish community who volunteered for this program. The selection process was extremely tough. 110 were selected for training. About 33 actually parachuted into occupied Europe on various missions, and seven were caught and killed.

On March 15, 1944 Senesh and several others were parachuted into Yugoslavia. Partisans helped them cross the border into Hungary on May 13th, 1944. However, she was†captured before she could begin her mission and was tortured in the Horthy Miklos Prison. Her mother, still in Hungary, was arrested as well. Hannah Senesh did not talk even when the guards threatened to torture her mother. She communicated with other prisoners using large cut-out letters placed in the window of her cell one at the time. She tried to boost their morale by singing. She was tried for treason on October 28, 1944. She was executed November 7, 1944, even though judges had not reached a verdict.† Her remains were brought to Israel in 1950 and buried in the cemetery on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. Senesh's diary was published in Hebrew in 1946. The village of Yad Hannah is named for her. A Hungarian military court officially exonerated her after the cold war ended. Her family in Israel were informed November 5, 1993.

Hannah Senesh wrote numerous poems that were turned into Hebrew songs, the most popular being "Eli, Shelo Yigamer me'olam" (Lord, May it never end) and "Ashrei Hagafrur" (Fortunate is the match);

Lord, may it never end

Lord, may it never end,
The sand and the sea,
The water swishing,
The lightning in the sky,
The prayer of man.
The voice called, and I went.
I went, because the voice called.

She wrote "Fortunate is the match" after she was parachuted into a partisan camp in Yugoslavia:

Fortunate is the match that burns and kindles the flames.
Fortunate† is the flame that burns inside the hearts.
Fortunate† are the hearts to know when to stop with dignity.
Fortunate is the match that burns and kindles the flames.

("Ashrei" means fortunate, blessed or happy)

See Also: Zionist ParachutistsEnzo Sereni Haviva Reik (Chaviva Reich)

Link - Hannah Senesh Web site

More Israeli and Zionist Biographies The Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Zionism and Israel


Text of biography and song translations are copyright © 2005 by Ami Isseroff and Zionism and Israel Information Center, May be printed out for non-profit educational use without permission. Other uses by permission only. Please link to these pages. Please do not copy them to Web sites or forums without permission.†

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Hannah Senesh