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Hannah Szenes
Birth Date
July 17, 1921
Birth Place
Hungary
Death Date
November 7, 1944
Death Place
Budapest, Hungary

Hannah Szenes  Biography

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 Special Operations Executive (SOE) paratrooper. She was one of 37 Jewish parachutists of Mandate Palestine parachuted by the British Army into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist 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.

Szenes was born on July 17, 1921, to an assimilated Jewish family in Hungary. Her father, Béla, a journalist and playwright, died when Hannah was six years old. She continued to live with her mother, Katalin, and her brother, György.

She enrolled in a Protestant private school for girls that also accepted Catholic and Jewish pupils; most of those of the Jewish faith had to pay three times the amount Catholics paid. However, Szenes only had to pay twice the regular tuition because she was considered a “Gifted Student”. This, along with the realization that the situation of the Jews in Hungary was becoming precarious, prompted Szenes to embrace Zionism, and she joined Maccabea, a Hungarian Zionist students organization.

Szenes graduated in 1939 and decided to emigrate to what was then the British Mandate of Palestine in order to study in the Girls’ Agricultural School at Nahalal. In 1941, she joined Kibbutz Sdot Yam and then joined the Haganah, the paramilitary group that laid the foundation of the Israel Defense Forces.

Hannah Szenes with members of Kibbutz Sdot Yam. (4th from left)
In 1943, she enlisted in the British Army in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force as an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class and began her training in Egypt as a paratrooper for the British Special Operations Executive (SOE).

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.

While in prison, Szenes used a mirror to flash signals out of the window to prisoners in other cells and communicated using large cut-out letters that she placed in her cell window one at a time and by drawing the Magen David in the dust.

She was tried for treason 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 German 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.”

Szenes’s gravestone
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 Kastner, Hannah’s mother testified that during the time her daughter was imprisoned, Kastner’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.”

After the Cold War, a Hungarian military court officially exonerated her. Her kin in Israel were informed on November 5, 1993.


2 Songs Composed by Hannah Szenes

 2 Tracks Composed   Add songs to playlist
  • Eli, Eli
    1:57
    Hebrew
  • Eli, Eli
    3:40
    Instrumental

3 thoughts on “Kaminos”

  1. Jim Borman says:

    Was Nicholas related to Alexander Saslavsky who married Celeste Izolee Todd?

  2. Mark Goldman says:

    Anyone have a contact email for Yair Klinger or link to score for Ha-Bayta?

  3. allan wolinsky says:

    wish to have homeland concert video played on the big screen throughout North America.

    can organize here in Santa Barbara California.

    contacts for this needed and any ideas or suggestions welcomed.

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