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Resisters

Hannah Szenes - Anti-Nazi Operative

Paratrooper and undercover operative who during World War II was dropped behind enemy lines - withstood extreme torture

Born: July 12, 1921 - Budapest, Hungary
Died: November 7, 1944 - Budapest, Hungary

Hannah Szenes in Uniform
Hannah Szenes in Uniform
Hannah Szenes (pronounced Se-Nesh), was born into a middle-class, Jewish, but unreligious, family in Budapest. Her father, Bela, was a well known writer who died when she was six. At an early age Hannah began to write by keeping a diary, which she was to maintain for her entire life.

Likely owing to the severe anti-Semitism she faced on a daily basis in Budapest, Hannah began to yearn to live in Palestine. As she grew older, she became deeply involved in Zionism and along with her brother, George, joined a group called the Maccabea, a well established Hungarian Zionist organization.

In 1939, Hannah and George immigrated to Palestine where they lived on a Kibbutz. While there she studied agriculture and wrote poetry. Later she joined the Haganah, a paramilitary group, which was the precursor to the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).

With World War II raging in Europe, and Hungary occupied by the Nazis, Hannah made her way into the British army where she was trained as a paratrooper to be used as an undercover operative in Hungary.

Her mission was to serve as one of 33 agents who would be airdropped behind enemy lines to rendezvous with partisan fighters. They would aid beleaguered Jewish communities in Hungary as well as help downed British pilots.

Hannah in Happier Days
Hannah in Happier Days
In March, 1944, Szenes parachuted into Yugoslavia where she linked up with Tito's partisans. She remained with the group in the Balkan Mountains for several months. On June 7, she crossed the border into Hungary and was almost immediately captured by Hungarian authorities and taken to a jail cell in Budapest.

Despite being tortured for months -- whipped and clubbed -- Szenes never divulged any information about her activities or comrades. She was eventually found guilty of spying and was set to be executed by firing squad. During her final moments she refused a blindfold, so that she could look her killers directly in their eyes. She was dead at 23 years old.

During her life she wrote the following poem called "Eli, Eli," which later became a well known folk song as well as a modern Jewish prayer.

O Lord, My G-d,
I pray that these things never end.
The sand and the sea,
The rush of the Water,
The crash of the heavens,
The prayer of woman and man.
Podcast:
On the Circuit: Roberta Grossman (Blessed is the Match), courtesy of zoom in online



Interesting Facts
  • A movie about her life called Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh was released into U.S. theaters in 2008.
  • On November 5, 1993, her family received an official report from the Hungarian military exonerating her of treason charges. Yitzhak Rabin was at the Tel Aviv ceremony where the document was handed over to her family.
  • She spoke six languages besides English.
  • A movie about her life was made called Hannah's War, in 1988.
Further Reading
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