WWII hero Hannah Szenes

Black and white photograph of Hannah Szenes at home, sitting on a metal garden chair in front of a house with windows, circa 1937. She wears a plaid dress and has a relaxed pose with a slight smile. There's a white bench and a dense shrubbery in the background, with a picket fence partially visible behind her.
Hannah at home in Budapest, circa 1937

Hannah Szenes Biography

Hannah Szenes once wrote, “There are stars whose radiance is visible on Earth though they have long been extinct. There are people whose brilliance continues to light the world even though they are no longer among the living. These lights are particularly bright when the night is dark. They light the way for humankind.”

She was a playwright and a poet. And she was a Special Operations Executive paratrooper for England during World War II, one of 37 Jewish recruits from Mandate Palestine who helped rescue Hungarian Jews facing deportation to Auschwitz. She believed deeply in the importance of this work and for the people to know that others were helping them. As Hannah would say, “Even if they catch me – the Jews will be notified. They will know that at least one person tried to reach them.”

On March 14, 1944, she parachuted into Yugoslavia for a mission. But at the Hungarian border, Hungarian gendarmes arrested Hannah. Taken to prison, guards tortured her for, among other information, the code to the transmitter she used for communicating with the SOE. The only information she gave them was her name.

Put on trial for treason, she was offered a pardon if she would admit guilt. Hannah refused. She was found guilty and sentenced to death by a firing squad. In a last act of defiance, Hannah refused a blindfold at her execution. She was just 23 years old.

Three years prior, in 1941, Hannah wrote:

“To die,

so young to die.

No, no, not I,

I love the warm sunny skies,

light, song, shining eyes,

I want no war, no battle cry,

No, no, not I.”

Notes

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Sources

  • Alfonso, Kristal L. M. “The Female Fighters of World War II.” Femme Fatale: An Examination of the Role of Women in Combat and the Policy Implications for Future American Military Operations, Air University Press, 2009, pp. 7–20. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep13932.7. Accessed 15 Nov. 2023.
  • Baumel, Judith Tydor. “The Heroism of Hannah Senesz: An Exercise in Creating Collective National Memory in the State of Israel.” Journal of Contemporary History, vol. 31, no. 3, 1996, pp. 521–46. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/261019. Accessed 15 Nov. 2023.
  • “Hannah Szenes in the garden of her home in Budapest.” United States Holocaust Memorial Museum, courtesy of Beit Hannah Senesh, https://collections.ushmm.org/search/catalog/pa1051010
  • Piercy, Marge, and Grossman, Roberta. Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary. United States, Jewish Lights Publishing, 2007.