A Missing Stamp: Hannah Senesh
This is a special SOH entry – maintained next to the most recently published stamp – to mark the embarrassing fact that no dedicated Israeli stamp has been issued yet to commemorate the heroine and poet Hannah Senesh and her legacy [Tzvi Ben-tzur].
Two of Hannah's most famous poems:
Walking to Caesarea (Eli, eli) –
God – may there be no end
To sea, to sand,
The prayer of man
Blessed Is The Match –
Blessed is the match consumed
in kindling flame.
Blessed is the flame that burns
in the secret fastness of the hurts.
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop
its beating for honor's sake.
Blessed is the match consumed
in kindling flame.
(Serdice Yugoslavia May 1944)
Hannah Senesh – a Hungarian-born Zionist who left Hungary for Eretz Israel in 1939 – volunteered during World War II for a rescue mission in Nazi-occupied Europe for saving the Jewish people in Hungary. Hanna had joined the British army and parachuted into Yugoslavia. After crossing the border into Hungary, she was immediately captured, tortured repeatedly over the next several months and executed by a firing squad in Budapest, on November 7, 1944, at the age of 23. Hannah became a national heroine in Israel.
A previously featured stamp – The Yishuv Parachutists – provides details about the group of parachutists-volunteers in which Hannah was a member.
Following are more details about Hannah and her legacy, taken from the website of The Hannah Senesh Legacy Foundation:
Hannah Senesh was born on July 17, 1921 to a highly cultured, a Jewish family. Her father, a celebrated author and playwright, passed away when she was six years of age. In those years, Hungarian Jewry enjoyed freedom and civil rights and scoffed at the idea of Eretz Israel. Hannah's family was no different in this respect and ignored Zionism.
At the age of thirteen she began writing a diary which ends on the eve of her mission. This diary has been fully preserved and is a testimony of her life, her inner thought, struggles, decisions – her uniqueness.
''When I began writing a diary, I was determined not to blabber about boys, as do other girls, but... my diary is becoming like that of any other girl'' (Jun. 18, 1936)
Yet on the pages of that diary began a special chapter in the history of Zionism. Hannah, a young girl, an outstanding athlete and student, writes about being influenced by Zionism and immigration to Eretz Israel.
''I don't remember if I have already told you that I am a Zionist. I feel now that I am with all my heart a conscious Jew... I am proud of my Judaism and I am committed to emigration to Eretz Israel and taking part in it's up building.''(Oct. 27, 1938)
Further on, young Hannah writes:
''Today is my birthday, and I am eighteen. One idea occupies me continually - Eretz Israel. There is but one place on earth in which we are not refugees, not emigrants, but where we are returning home - Eretz Israel.'' (Jul. 17, 1939)
Less than a year after these lines were written, Hannah had already arrived at the Nahalal agricultural school in Eretz Israel. A young girl, full of faith, who had left everything behind and immigrated alone to fulfill her dream - to live and build Eretz Israel. Her mother, Katherine, to whom she was deeply attached, remained on her own in Budapest. Her brother, Giora, had gone to study in France a year earlier.
''At last I am home in Eretz Israel''
Writes Hannah in her diary, four days after her arrival. From this point onwards she writes her diary in Hebrew. In her diary notes is reflected the change that occurs in the soul of a person who moves from tennis shoes on the courts of Budapest to the boots of the Nahalal cattle-sheds.
''A few days ago I noticed two things - a postcard which Eva sent from a ball in Budapest and my hands wounded by physical labor. For a moment I asked myself whether it had not been but foolish romanticism leaving my comfortable life and choosing the life of a worker? After a moment my mind rested: here, in Eretz Israel, this is where I belong!'' (Feb. 17, 1940).
In Eretz Israel, those were days of building and creating, while in Europe World War II raged and with it ''the final solution''.
''The Germans are standing at the gates of Paris and here it is still quite, the sky is bright and blue, but where are inner quietness and tranquillity? With Giora communication has been cut, and what about mother?? I see her in my dreams at night.'' (Jun. 26, 1940)
After completing the agricultural school in Nahalal, Hannah had to decide as to her future. Thought her diary describes struggles and hesitation - her decision was clear-cut - to the Kibbutz. She chose Sdot Yam if for no other reason, then because it was a young Kibbutz on its way.
''I was attracted by the future of Sdot Yam, the tasks ahead of it, to be there at its beginnings!''
In the Kibbutz, Hannah lived a creative existence of work and fulfillment. She had but little time for herself and her diary, but when she takes up pen, her special character is revealed before us, still uncertain - yet at peace with her deeds, searching for her way, hesitating, yet pacing confidently down the path she chose.
''Nine hours a day I stand and so the laundry, and I ask myself if this is indeed all I can contribute?... I feel a lot of unused power inside me''.
At the beginning of 1942, when Hannah wrote these words, the Nazi destruction machine was at the height of its operation. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were murdered every day. Hannah, like the rest of the Yishuv, the Jewish community in Eretz Israel, was not aware, at first, of the extent of the catastrophe. But in the fall of 1942 information was beginning to arrive regarding the holocaust taking place in Europe.
Horror took hold of the Yishuv. Its leaders tried to alert the leaders of the allied nations to take action, but with no success. The leaders of the Zionist movement planned to establish a rescue unit that would be sent to Europe. For over a year they begged but only at the beginning of 1944 were they answered – parachutists from Eretz Israel were to be dropped in Yugoslavia, Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Romania and Austria – with a double mission: a formal mission – gathering intelligence for the British army and another, secret mission: saving Jews.
''Suddenly, the idea grabbed me that I must go to Hungary, and be there during these days, To lend a hand to the ''Aliyat Ha'noar'' organization and also to bring out my possible and vital and I decided to rise and act'' (Jan. 8, 1943)
Hannah kept these thoughts to herself, but the idea of lending a hand to her brothers abroad, left to the mercy of the Nazis, did not leave here mind.
''Weird things happen at times. A month ago I wrote a few words in my diary about the sudden idea that grabbed me, and just a few days ago a member of the Palmach visited here... and during a conversation we held, he told me that a ''Palmach'' unit is being organized that was designated to do... exactly what I felt sough be don't then. The coincidence is eerie'' (Feb. 22, 1943)
Two hundred and forty boys and girls were selected for the mission in Europe, they went through rigorous training: parachuting, weapons, radio, sabotage and more. Only thirty-seven of them were eventually sent on their mission, after completing training, one of whom was Hannah Senesh. They are known in Israeli history as The Yishuv Parachutists (The Yishuv was the Jewish community in Eretz Israel).
''This week I am to leave for Egypt, enlisted, a soldier... I want to believe that I did, and am going to do the right thing. As for the rest - only time will tell.''(Jan. 11, 1944)
This is how the diary ends - placed in a suitcase and deposited for safekeeping in the storage room of Sdot Yam Kibbutz, together with then notebook featuring her poems, the play she write, her many letters and much more. Her friends in the Kibbutz were quite unaware of this side of her personality.
In her last letter to the Kibbutz members, written during her flight from Italy on her way to be dropped by parachute in Yugoslavia, Hannah writes:
On the sea, on land, in the air, during war and during peace,
We all have but one goal.
Each and every one of us must stand his place,
There is no here is no difference between on e duty and another.
You are always in my thoughts
Because that's what gives me strength.''
Military operations are measured according to theirs results, and from this point of view the parachutists' mission was a failure, but the mere appearance of the envoys from Eretz Israel in the very heart to the Nazi hell, in an attempt to rescue their brothers from extermination, lighted a glimmer of hope in their hearts. The mission to Gestapo and its methods, and nevertheless left for their mission out of a desperate decision that something had to be done.
Hannah was designated for a mission in Hungary. She was dropped over Yugoslavia, and joined the partisans fighting the Germans. Only after three months did she mange to cross the border to Hungary, and even then only because she insisted that she would not wait any longer. The destruction machine was still working at full force, Eichman who was in charge of the ''final solution'', who was stationed in Budapest and accelerated the dispatch of transports to Auschwitz.
In a small village near the border, Hannah was captured by the Hungarian police and handed over to the Gestapo. The transmitter found in her possession left no room for doubt as to her doings. Submitted to server torture, she stood brave and proud, did not surrender or betray her comrades. Even after her mother was imprisoned and the Nazis threatened to execute her, they did not manage to break her spirit and she did not betray.
What happened to her during the last months of her life we know from eyewitnesses and from the testimony of her mother, Katherine Senesh, who met Hannah in prison. At the end of October, a court martial trail was held. A week later, on Nov. 7 1944, Hannas was executed by firing squad even before a verdict has been passed. She refused to ask for pardon or have her eyes covered when facing her executioners. Her mother learned of her murder that same day. The thunder of the Red Army could already be heard in the outskirts of Budapest and six months later Germany surrendered.
Concealed in her clothes were found a goodbye not for her mother and her last poem which she write in prosion.
''Now, in the month of July, I am 23 years of age,
In a daring game of numbers I placed my bet,
The dice rolled,
26 parachutists left Eretz Israel on their mission, 7 did not return, amonth them Hannah Senesh.
Five years passed from the day Hannah came to Israel until she met her death in the Budapest prison yard. A bundle of poems, a play and youth diary were all that she left behind, and yet she also left a great inheritance – her unreserved following of the inner voice that guided her on her way to Eretz Israel, her joining a pioneering settlement, the rescue mission in occupied Europe and her proud stand in facing her tortured and judges, turned her into a legendary figure familiar to almost every person in Israel.
Two songs of her collection became part of the selected canon of modern Hebrew prayer - ''Blessed Is the Match and ''Walking to Caesarea''.
And as long as we continue praying these dozen simple words, Hannah will continue living among us, together with the sand and the sea and the prayer of man.
May her memory be forever with us.
A stamp commemorating Hannah Senesh hasn't been issued yet and, as of now, Israel has no plans to issue one.