Hannah Senesh

Shalom friends,

Two weeks after Passover we commemorate the Jews who perished and those who showed resistance and heroism during the Holocaust. This day is called Yom Hazikaron Lasho'a velagvura (יום הזכרון לשואה ולגבורה). In the Holocaust, approximately 6 million Jewish men, women, and children all over Europe were murdered by the Nazis simply because they were Jews.

In this issue I would like to tell you about a very brave young woman, who sacrificed her own life in order to rescue Jews in occupied Europe and bring them to the Land of Israel. Her name is Hannah Senesh (חנה סנש, in Hungarian: Anikó Szenes).

Hannah was born in 1921 in Budapest, Hungary to a highly cultured Jewish family. Her father who was a well-acclaimed author passed away when she was six years old, and she grew up with her beloved mother and older brother, Giora. For her thirteenth birthday, she received a diary, in which she wrote her thoughts, struggles, decisions, and feelings for nine years.

Although she was not raised in a Zionist home, she realized at the age of 17 that the Land of Israel is her real home. She wrote in her diary:

"I don't remember if I have already told you that I am a Zionist. I feel now that I am with all my heart a conscious Jew... I am proud of my Judaism and I am committed to emigration to Eretz Israel and taking part in its up building." (27.10.1938)

When she was eighteen she summarized the essence of Zionism for herself:"There is but one place on earth in which we are not refugees, not emigrants, but where we are returning home - Eretz Israel." (17.7.39)

Less than a year later, Hannah returned home, to the Land of Israel. On the same month she left Hungary, the Germans invaded Poland and World War II had begun.

Hannah Senesh left her wealthy home in Budapest, her beloved mother, and her friends to fulfill her dream. She became a student at the Nahalal agricultural school. After completing her studies, Hannah decided to join a young Kibbutz called Sdot Yam (שדות ים), located on the sandy shore, near the ruins of the ancient port city of Caesarea.

In 1942 Hannah was involved in living, working, and building the young Kibbutz. At that time, rumors and bits of information about the holocaust and its range were beginning to arrive to Israel. The Jewish leaders in Israel cooperated with the British forces in several ways to defeat the Nazis. One way was the establishment of a secret unit of parachutists. This unit had a double mission: gathering intelligence in Europe for the British Army and saving Jews and bringing them to Israel.

Without knowing about this mission, Hannah wrote 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 'Aliyat Ha'noar' organization and also to bring my mother." (8.1.1943)

Six weeks later Hannah was recruited to that secret unit. She went through rigorous training and was enlisted as a British officer. On January 11th 1943, just before leaving for her mission in Europe, Hannah wrote the last post in her diary:

"I want to believe that I did, and am going to do the right thing. As for the rest - only time will tell."

On March 1944 Hannah was parachuted into Yugoslavia near the border with Hungary. She joined the partisans fighting the Germans and three months later attempted to cross the border to Hungary. Unfortunately, she was captured by the Hungarian police and handed over to the Nazis' Gestapo. The transmitter she carried with her was evidence of her intelligence mission. In prison she was severely tortured - the Germans wanted the code for the transmitter, so they could send false messages and listen to the enemy lines. They also wanted Hannah to give them more information about her mission and about her fellow comrades. Hannah stood brave and proud and did not surrender, or betray her comrades.

The Nazis imprisoned her beloved mother (who was still in Hungary) and threatened to execute her, but Hannah's spirit was not broken and she did not betray her country and fellow comrades.

In jail, Hannah used a mirror to flash signals out of the window of her cell to the Jewish prisoners in other cells. She communicated with them using large cut-out letters in Hebrew that she placed in her window, one at a time and by drawing the Star of David (מגן דוד, magen david) in the dust.

She was tried for treason (in Hungary) and espionage. On November 7th 1944, she was executed by firing squad, even before a verdict had been passed. She refused to ask to be pardoned, or have her eyes covered when facing her executioners.

Her last poem, written in prison, was found concealed in her clothes:

"Now, in the month of July, I am 23 years of age,In a daring game of numbers I placed my bet,The dice rolled,I lost."

Hannah Senesh left a great legacy: her determination to follow her inner voice that guided her to the Land of Israel and guided her to the rescue mission. Her bravery, heroism, and pride made Hannah Senesh a legendary figure in Israel.

May her memory and the memory of the six million Jews be kept forever in our hearts.

שירה כהן-רגבShira Cohen-RegevThe HebrewOnline Team

Hannah Senesh Poems

In 1942, while living in Kibbutz Sdot Yam by the seashore, Hannah Senesh wrote the following poem. The poem was written like a short prayer expressing her wish to save the moment, the sand, the water... The pureness of the poem and the legacy of the poet made it a lasting song, sang in many national ceremonies.

You can listen to Netanella singing this song here.

Hannah Senesh at the Caesarea beach (1942/1943)Credit: The Senesh Family and the Hannah Senesh House

Before Hannah Senesh crossed the border from Yugoslavia to Hungary, she and her fellow parachutist, Re'uven Dafni, met a partisan girl whose hair had already turned white. After finding out that she was also a Jew, they realized that this girl was a childhood friend of Dafni. A day later, Hannah gave the following song to Dafni. This song enlightened the hearts of many people in the years to come.

The poem in the original handwriting of Hannah Senesh, 1944

You can listen to the song here.

Hebrew Words

צנחןTranscription: tsanxanPart of speech: Noun, masculine Translation: parachutist

אמץTranscription: ometsPart of speech: Noun, masculine Translation: courage

שירTranscription: shirPart of speech: Noun, masculine Translation: Song, poem

Hebrew Word Search (תפזרת)

See if you can find all of the words in the puzzle below:

אמץ, אלי, גבורה, חנה סנש , ים, צנחן, קיסריה, שואה, שיר, שמים

Hannah Senesh in Kibbutz Sdot Yam (1942/1943)Credit: The Senesh Family and the Hannah Senesh House

Weekly Hebrew NamesHannah (Chana) - חנה

Name: Hannah (Chana) - חנה Gender: FemaleTime of appearance: The Biblical Era

History: Hannah was Elkanah's wife and the mother of the prophet Samuel.Citation: "Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord." 1 Samuel 1, 20

Eli - אליName Eli (1) - אלי Gender: Male Time of appearance: The Modern EraMeaning: My God. "Eli" is also the shortened version of the name "Eliyahu" ("Elijah").Categories: Names Containing the Word "God" or God's Name