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Remember – Nazi fighter Hannah Szenes

Hannah Szenes (often anglicized as Hannah Senesh or Chanah Senesh; Hebrew: חנה סנש; Hungarian: Szenes Anikó; July 17, 1921 – November 7, 1944) was a poet and a Special Operations Executive (SOE) member. She was one of 37 Jewish SOE recruits from Mandate Palestine parachuted by the British into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist anti-Nazi forces and ultimately in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to the German death camp at Auschwitz.

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. 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.

On March 14, 1944, she and colleagues Yoel Palgi and Peretz Goldstein 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.

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. She 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.

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 tortured, but 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 refused.

She was tried for treason in Hungary 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 firing squad on November 7, 1944.

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.”

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.

During the trial of Rudolf (Rezso) Kasztner, Hannah’s mother testified that during the time her daughter was imprisoned, Kasztner’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.”

Szenes was a poet and playwright, writing both in Hungarian and Hebrew.

The following lines are from the last poem she wrote, “Ashrei Hagafrur”, after she was parachuted into a partisan camp in Yugoslavia:

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 honour’s sake.
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

The following lines were found in Hannah’s death cell after her execution:

One—two—three … eight feet long,
Two strides across, the rest is dark …
Life hangs over me like a question mark.

One—two—three … maybe another week,
Or next month may still find me here,
But death, I feel, is very near.

I could have been twenty-three next July;
I gambled on what mattered most,
The dice were cast. I lost.