Hannah Senesh (Szenes) was born in Budapest, Hungary, to an assimilated, middle-class family. An avid diarist from the age of 13 until her death, Hannah maintained a personal journal that reflected the literary talent she had inherited from her father, Bela, a playwright who died when she was six.
While the Senesh family were not active participants in Jewish religious life, both Hannah and her brother George were ardent Zionists. In 1939, at age 18, Hannah gave up her dream of a university education, went to Palestine (now called Israel) and enrolled in an agricultural school. She later joined Kibbutz S’dot Yam (Fields of the Sea) in Caesarea.
Back in Hungary, the entire Jewish community (including Hannah’s mother) was suffering terribly due to local anti-Semitism. Although the Germans did not officially occupy Hungary until 1944, the Hungarian government allied itself with the Axis powers. Worried about her mother and anxious to do something to stop the Nazis, Hannah joined the British Army, volunteering to be parachuted across enemy lines as a spy.
In June 1944, Hannah parachuted into Yugoslavia and, together with a band of underground Jewish partisans, crossed the border into Hungary. Unfortunately, they were quickly captured. The radio transmitter in their possession was evidence enough to have them imprisoned.
The Nazis held Hannah in prison for nearly five months, during which time she was able to communicate with her mother. She was tortured, repeatedly, but refused to give the Nazis any information. On November 7, 1944, the 23 year-old Hannah was executed by firing squad. She refused to be blind-folded.
Hannah’s diaries and poems, which she sent to her mother, were later published. Several of her poems became popular Hebrew songs. The courage displayed by this young woman has been an inspiration to many generations of young people.
One of her most famous poems:
My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.