Hannah Senesh was an Hungarian Jew who, in 1939 emigrated to Palestine (under British rule) in order to study at an agricultural school. Less than 5 years later she was trained by the British army to parachute into Yugoslavia during the Second World War in order to help save the Jews of Hungary. Soon after making her jump, Hannah was captured by the local police and turned over to the Gestapo. Tortured. Shot to death by a firing squad – before her trial was complete. Convicted of treason.
Senesh decides to emigrate
Intriguing is the fact that she and her family were assimilated Jews in her home country and relatively well off. Although she and her family did not practice Judaism neither would she “convert” to Christianity in order to attend college. Thus her decision to emigrate.
The land she called home
She studied first at an agricultural school later settling at a kibbutz. There, she worked in many menial positions including baking, planting, harvesting, poultry husbandry, carpentry as well as laundress for long hours each day.
It was Senesh’s choice to join the clandestine group who would try to rescue her fellow Jews. It was also her choice to not reveal anything about her group or her mission through her prison sentence, the threat of torture to her mother and her own torture.
Her diary, started when she was only 13, begins with an adolescent voice and develops into a quiet accounting of her growing maturity, her thoughtful decisions and her activism. It falls short in the telling of her heroism which was left to others who were imprisoned with her.
Following are short excerpts from her diary. As some of her entries are quite lengthy I’ve only included bits and pieces of what she wrote. My intention is to give you a brief look into this amazing young woman’s diary which captures her life as normal, mundane, thoughtful, intriguing, incredible and astonishing by turns.
September 20, 1934
The other day there was an election in school as to who would keep the Day Book. I got all the votes but two. It was not the appointment that made me so happy, but rather that all the girls in my class like me.
January 30, 1935
I had a very good time at the Dance Circle. It lasted from six-thirty to ten o’clock. According to Gyuri [her brother] I looked very well, and I thought I did too. I danced a lot, not only with Gyuri’s friends, but with a lot of older boys as well. This was my first real dance!
January 4, 1936
Before starting to write I turned back the pages to last New Year. I asked myself then what the New Year would bring. Now, as if closing accounts, I’ve decided that 1935 was all good. I’m satisfied with it. I pray God, I can look back next year and feel the same way about 1936. . .
September 18, 1936
It’s the second day of the Jewish New Year. Yesterday and today we went to synagogue. I’m not quite clear just how I stand: synagogue, religion, the question of God. . .
March 16, 1937
No news, but I have nothing else to do, and the diary happened to be in front of me. As a matter of fact, it’s about time for a bit of self-appraisal, though I’m not sure it would prove advantageous. What I must be careful is not to become conceited. But, as a matter of fact, I am far more apt to be self-critical than self-satisfied. . .
March 13, 1938
Today I want to write about two things: political events and last night. And as in time and importance the political situation is foremost, I’ll begin with that. Not long ago, just before Hitler’s annual progress report to the Reichstag (February 20) the Austrian Chancellor, Dr. Kurt von Schuschnigg, went to Germany at the invitation of Hitler. Ostensibly they had a most cordial conference, and we heard little about the question of Anschluss. . .
September 17, 1938
We’re living through indescribably tense days. The question is: Will there be war? The mobilization going on in various countries doesn’t fill one with a great deal of confidence. No recent news concerning the discussions of Hitler and Chamberlain. The entire world is united in fearful suspense. I for one, feel a numbing indifference because of all this waiting. The situation changes from minute to minute. Even the idea there may be war is abominable enough.
May 14, 1940
I was sitting, studying a notebook on general agriculture, when suddenly I was struck by the realization of how cut off I am from the world. How can I have the patience to study and prepare for an exam while the greatest war in history is raging in Europe? We are witnessing, in general, times which will determine the fate of man.
November 2, 1940
. . . One of my most beautiful plans is to be a poultry farming instructor, to travel from one farm to another, to visit settlements, to advise and to assist, to organize, to introduce record-keeping, to develop this branch of the economy. In the evening I would conduct brief seminars for kibbutz members, teach them important facets of the trade.
June 14, 1941
This week I leave for Egypt. I’m a soldier. Concerning the circumstances of my enlistment, and my feelings in connection with it, and with all that led up to it, I don’t want to write. I want to believe that what I’ve done, and will do, are right. Time will tell the rest.
Senesh continued to write of her life until she put her diary with her belongings and left for her daring mission.
Senesh parachuted into Yugoslavia in March 1944.
On June 7, 1944 Senesh crossed the border into Hungary where she was arrested almost immediately.
When she was executed by a firing squad on November 7, 1944 she refused the offered blindfold. She was 23 years old.
Here are some links where you can learn more about Hanah Senesh, what she wrote in her journal and how she lived her life.