To Die, Hannah Senesh, 1941
This is a photograph of the manuscript of one of Hannah Senesh’s less well-known poems entitled "To Die," which she wrote during her time at Kibbutz Nahalal in 1941.
The poem is divided into two short verses. In the first, Senesh expresses her passion for life; dying young is not an option for someone with such a thirst for life. In the second, she comes to terms with the fact that even though death may come, she can at least die on God’s soil, on her homeland.
Hannah Senesh was born in Budapest in 1921. She moved to Israel in 1939 and was among the founders of Kibbutz Sdot Yam. In 1943, she volunteered to fight in the British Army against the Nazis. In March 1944 she was one of thirty-seven fighters who parachuted into Yugoslavia to try and recue Hungarian Jews. She was captured by the Nazis and executed in November 1944.
Hannah Senesh became known as a poet and a writer. She wrote a personal diary until her very last day. After her death, her poems were found, and two, in particular, have become an integral part of Hebrew culture: “Blessed is the Match” and “Eli, Eli.”
Three things that you didn’t know about Hannah Senesh, Video, The National Library of Israel
Biography of Hannah Senesh, Zionism and Israel – Biographies
Fire in My Heart, The Story of Hannah Senesh, Museum of Jewish Heritage
This resource could be used in History lessons to discuss the Jewish community in Israel during the Second World War. The poem could also be used as an example of early Israeli literature.
Jewish Studies teachers could use the poem to discuss altruism, Hannah Senesh as a symbol of heroism and self-sacrifice, and the general sense of responsibility felt by Jews around the world for their fellow Jews in Europe.
Literature teachers could analyse the translation of the poem, focusing specifically on how the poet’s short and sharp style strengthens her point. Hebrew teachers could analyse the language of the original poem.
In a Sociology class, the song can be used to discuss altruism, and the figure of Senesh as a symbol of heroism and self-sacrifice.
Who wrote this poem?
What language is it written in?
When was the poem written?
Reading Between the Lines
What is the message of the poem?
What can we learn from the poem about the mood of the Yishuv (the pre-state Jewish community in Israel) in the early 1940s?
What made Hannah Senesh so patriotic towards her new homeland?
How do you define a hero? Was Hannah Senesh a hero? Do you know any heroes?
Research other war heroes from Israeli history (Yoni Netanyahu, Moshe Dayan, or others). What makes them heroes in the eyes of the Israeli public?
Create a display of military heroes from Jewish history.
To die… so young to die… no, no, not I.
I love the warm sunny skies,
Light, songs, shining eyes,
I want no war, no battle cry
No, no…not I.
But if it must be that I live today
With blood and death on every hand,
Praised be He for the grace, I'll say
To live, if I should die this day…
Upon your soil, my home, my land.