Decades Later, Tombstone Follows Hannah Szenes' Body to Israel

On November 7, the 63rd anniversary of Hannah Szenes' execution by a firing squad in Hungary, her nephew Eitan Szenes finished a four-year campaign to bring her gravestone from Hungary to Israel.

The marker stood at Hannah Szenes' grave in Budapest's Jewish cemetery. Now, 57 years after Szenes' body was reinterred in Israel, the gravestone has followed, with the help of the Defense Ministry.

It was placed at Hannah Szenes' kibbutz, Sdot Yam, next to the Hannah Szenes House. A platoon of paratroopers stood behind the modest headstone, which bears a relief of a woman Szenes' poem "Happy is the Match."

"When the Red Army occupied Budapest, Hannah Szenes' mother, Katrina, could at long last visit her daughter's grave," relates Dr. Anna Szalai, a specialist on Hungarian art and literature. "Only one Christian man knew the exact location of Szenes' grave in Budapest's Jewish cemetery, and he led her mother to her burial site, in the martyrs' section. After the mother found the grave, she decided to erect a tombstone, and asked a well-known sculptor to make it." However, Katrina Szenes immigrated to Israel and passed away before she could see the tombstone be put in place.

In 1950, Hannah Szenes' remains were brought to Israel. "This was an impressive journey that took nearly a week," says Eitan Szenes. "The coffin left Budapest, via Vienna to the port of Trieste in Italy, where it was transferred to a navy ship. There were ceremonies at the Haifa port, in Tel Aviv and the National Institutions building in Jerusalem. Finally, she was reburied on Mount Herzl. Along the way a ceremony was held at Sdot Yam, in front of the building that had just been erected in her memory."

The sea winds have taken their toll on the Hannah Szenes house. Nowadays it attracts no more than 15,000 visitors a year. The Hannah Senesh (Szenes) Legacy Foundation and the Sdot Yam paratroopers want the place to be redone, and a new exhibition wing added.

"The gravestone has come home, but Hannah's spiritual materials are still seeking a home, a safe place to dwell, which has not been found 60 years after Israel's independence," says her nephew David Szenes.

Members of Hannah Szenes' family and the kibbutz members hope that the tombstone's arrival will help boost the parachutist-poet's legacy - her rich archive still has not found a home.

Minister without Portfolio Ami Ayalon, whose uncle Yona Rosen enlisted Szenes to parachute into Yugoslavia during World War II, the mission that led to her arrest and execution, says the Szenes House should pay tribute to "a legacy whose essence is civil leadership, the relations between the individual and the collective and our role in this world. 'A voice called out to me and I went,' said Hannah Szenes. This is her legacy."

Dr. Szalai adds, "The myth becomes lifeless at a certain stage. Nevertheless, Hannah Szenes's life was vibrant and full of content, thought, emotions, a sense of mission, the crisis of immigration, absorption and education - all of this vanishes from the figure in the myth."