Hannah Szenes Letter to her Brother
My dear George,
I send you again a short letter to make you know, that I am quite OK and that’s all. I guess all my acquaintances and relatives are cross with me, that I never write and are perhaps even angry with me. Please try to explain the situation if possible, if not they will forgive me later.
To mother, I do not write now either and your letters must replace the mine. For this reason I give you the right even to forge my signature, hoping you will not make use of it for “high financial obligations.”
No use writing that I would like to see you, to talk to you and at least to write more detailed letters. I hope you know that very well. I get your letters with great delay but sooner or later they reach me, and I am always ever so glad to hear about you.
Thousands of kisses to you and warm greetings to friends.
This is a letter written by Hannah Szenes to her brother Gyorgy (Giora in Hebrew) in 1944. The letter was written in English, and she writes that this is a short letter to inform him that she is well. Hannah asks her brother to write a letter in her name to their mother. She permits him to fake her signature, but emphasizes that he is not allowed to fake her signature in financial documents! Finally, she asks him to write back to her. She sends him kisses and regards to her friends.
Hannah Szenes sent this letter to her brother after his departure from Hungary. During the period between Giora’s immigration to Israel and her mission in Europe, she managed to meet her brother for the last time. Their mother remained in Hungary and saw her daughter for the last time in prison after her arrest and before her execution.
The letter was sent on May 20, 1944, about a month after Hannah’s departure to Croatia and about two and a half weeks before she crossed the border into Hungary, where she was caught a few days later. This is the last known letter written by Hannah Szenes.
Hannah Szenes (also written Senesh) was born in Budapest on July 17, 1921. Her father was a writer and journalist who died when Hannah was six years old. On completing high school, Szenes experienced anti-Semitism and decided to emigrate to Israel in 1939 and join the Zionist pioneers. She spent two years training at an agricultural school in Nahalal and was one of the founding members of Kibbutz Sdot Yam.
Szenes was disturbed by the events in Europe and felt a strong need to take part in the fight against the Nazis. In 1943 she volunteered for the British Army and her background and courage made her an ideal candidate for one of the most dangerous secret initiatives of the British and the Yishuv in Israel: parachuting into Nazi-occupied Europe to collect information about the German forces and assist the underground movements.
In March 1944 Hannah Szenes and her comrades parachuted into Yugoslavia, near the Hungarian border. The paratroopers worked with partisans in Croatia, and in June 1944 Szenes crossed the border into Hungary. She was caught immediately and sent by the Hungarian police to Budapest for interrogation. Despite severe torture, she refused to give up details of the mission or its members. She was tried for treason, and in November 1944, before the trial was even completed, she was executed in a prison in Budapest.
Hannah Szenes was known as a talented poet and writer. She kept a personal diary until her very last day. After her death, many of her poems were discovered, poems such as “Blessed is the Match” and “A Walk to Caesarea” which later became an integral part of Israeli culture. Szenes also wrote letters, and a play called The Violin about kibbutz life. Szenes wrote in both Hebrew and Hungarian; the latter works were collected and translated into Hebrew.
In 1950, Hannah Szenes’ remains were brought for reburial on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. In November 2007, her gravestone was brought from the Jewish cemetery in Budapest and placed in the cemetery in Kibbutz Sdot Yam.
Hannah Szenes has become a symbolic figure in Israeli culture, a symbol of heroism and self-sacrifice. No less esteemed is her literary talent and her few but beloved works remain alive in Israeli culture to this day.
The National Library collection contains letters by Hannah Szenes in Hebrew and Hungarian, manuscripts of her poems, postcards, and manuscripts of her songs and music scores.
This letter can be used in Jewish History lessons to teach about remarkable figures during the Holocaust and to explore the concept of Jewish heroism throughout the ages and famous Jewish heroes from history.
Literature teachers can compare this letter of other famous last letters sent by people before their deaths, see examples here.
Who wrote this letter?
To whom was the letter addressed?
When was the letter sent?
What does Szenes ask her brother to do?
What does she ask him not to do?
Reading Between the Lines
What was Hannah Szenes doing in Croatia?
This is presumed to be Hannah’s last letter. What happened to her after she sent the letter?
Based on this letter, how do you think Hannah’s relationship was with her family?
Why did Hannah Szenes consider it so important to send greetings to her mother?
How did the Yishuv (Jewish residents of pre-State Israel) contribute to the efforts against the Germans?
How did you feel when you read the letter?
How do you define heroism?
Do you consider Hannah Szenes to be a heroine? Explain your answer.
Make a list of five people who you consider to be heroes. What do they have in common?
Imagine that you are Hannah Szenes and instead of writing to Giora, you decided to write to your mother. What would you have written?