Portrait of Chana Senesh
This photograph was taken when Hannah Szenes was sixteen or seventeen years old, before she left Hungary for her new life in Israel. Szenes is wearing clothes and a hairstyle which were common in the interwar period. On the back of the photograph it is written that the photograph was taken when Hannah was sixteen or seventeen and that it was gifted to the National Library by Hannah’s mother many years later.
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 image can be used in Jewish History lessons to explore the life of Hannah Szenes. It can also be used when teaching about the Holocaust in general, about the acts of heroism at that time, and about the connection between the Yishuv in Israel and the Holocaust.
Jewish Studies teachers can use this resource to explore famous Jewish heroes and the concept of Jewish heroism throughout the ages.
Describe the photograph.
How old is the girl in this image?
What is written on the back of the photograph?
Where was this photograph taken?
Reading Between the Lines
The photograph shows Hannah Szenes at the age of sixteen or seventeen.
What was her life like at this time?
Where did she grow up?
What kind of home did she grow up in?
At the age of eighteen, Szenes decided to emigrate to Israel.
Why did she do this?
What did she do after settling in Israel?
What were her connections with the family and friends she had left behind in Hungary?
Why did Szenes volunteer for the British Army, and what unit did she join?
What happened during her mission in Hungary?
Why do you think her mother donated her archive to the National Library of Israel?
What do you feel about the story of Hannah Szenes?
What aspect of her life moved you the most?
What is Hannah Szenes’ enduring legacy in Israel today?
This is one of her most famous poems . How does it make you feel?
Create a poster commemorating the life of Hannah Szenes.
What images and themes have you chosen?
Hannah Szenes 16–17
A gift from her mother