A Light in the Dark

Hannah Szenes (or Chana Senesh) (July 17, 1921 – November 7, l944) was one of the most heroic Jews who fought the Nazis in Europe. She became a symbol of hope to oppressed people all over the world.

She was born to an assimilated Jewish family in Budapest at a time when Jews enjoyed freedom and civil rights. Szenes’ father, Bela Szenes, was a well-known playwright and poet. He died when she was six, but left her a rich tradition. Hannah became a poet in her own right and at the age of 13, she started a diary in which she continued to write in until her death. It was saved by a comrade and is still in existence today.

Szenes and her brother were brought up by their mother, and Szenes was enrolled in a private Protestant school, which was open to Catholics and Jews. An outstanding student, she was elected to be head of the literary society, but Hannah could not take the office because of the increasing anti-Semitic atmosphere. Because of this, Szenes was given a choice to convert to Christianity or remain a Jew in Hungary, which was becoming more anti-Jewish by the day. She turned to Zionism and became totally involved with its goals. It was a decision that would change her life forever.

In l939, she finished school and decided to move to Palestine to study agriculture and eventually joined a kibbutz, Sedot Yam. By l942, word began trickling down about the Holocaust that was taking place in Germany and where hundreds of thousands of Jews were being murdered every day. Worried about her family and about what was happening, she decided to return to Hungary and within a short time joined the British Army.

In l944, Szenes began paratrooper training in Egypt for the British. After completing the training in Cairo, she, together with fellow parachutists from Palestine, spent three months with Tito’s partisans.

In May, l944, Szenes and her comrades crossed the Hungarian border in small groups; She was captured almost immediately by Hungarian police known for their anti-Semitism. She was captured with a radio transmitter in her possession.

Although tortured for information, she never disclosed the radio code to the Hungarian police. After five months in prison, Hannah Szenes went on trial in October. She was charged with being a British spy and found guilty. She refused to ask for a pardon. . Szenes was executed by a firing squad. She refused to cover her eyes. She wanted to look her murderers in the eyes. Hannah Szenes was 23 years of age.

Her diary ended: ”This week I am to leave for Egypt, enlisted, a soldier… I want to believe that I did and, am going to do the right thing. As for the rest, only time will tell.”

Epilogue

Hannah Szenes’ diary was published in Hebrew in l946. In l950, Szenes’ body was brought to Israel and buried in the cemetery on Mount Herzl, Jerusalem. On November 5th, l993, Hannah’s family received a copy of the Hungarian military report of Szenes court order exonerating her from treason charges. Yitzchak Rabin attended the Tel Aviv ceremony.

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