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Israelis You Should Know: Hannah Szenes

Hannah Szenes, an Israeli woman who parachuted into Europe during the Holocaust, as well as a poet; photo taken in 1939 (Photo: wikicommons)

Name: Hannah Szenes

Life: July 17, 1921 – November 7, 1944

Known for: Szenes was one of several Jews who parachuted into Yugoslavia during World War II to rescue Hungarian Jews about to be deported to Auschwitz concentration camp.

About her: Hannah Szenes was born in 1921 to a Jewish family in Hungary. During her schooling, she was exposed to anti-Semitism, which prompted her to learn more about her Jewish roots. While in high school, she joined a Zionist youth movement and began learning Hebrew.

In 1939, she immigrated to what was then British Mandate Palestine (now Israel), where she studied at an agricultural school and joined the Sedot Yam kibbutz, where she spent much of her time writing poetry.

Szenes joined the British Army in 1943 after the outbreak of World War II and volunteered to be parachuted into Europe. In March 1944, she parachuted into Yugoslavia with several other Jewish volunteers. They worked to aid the anti-Nazi forces until June, when they planned to enter Hungary and rescue Hungarian Jews from being sent to Auschwitz.

Szenes was arrested at the Hungarian border and imprisoned, but did not reveal any details of her mission. She was eventually tried as a spy and executed.

Her remains were brought to Israel in 1950 and buried in the cemetery on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. A film about her life, “Hanna’s War,” was released in 1988, and several biographies have been written about her, including “Hannah Szenes: A Song of Lightin 1998 and “Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary” in 2007.

Szenes’ poetry is widely known throughout Israel today, and a kibbutz and several streets are named after her.

In her own words: “In my life's chain of events nothing was accidental. Everything happened according to an inner need.”

Her most famous poem, "Eli, Eli," written in 1942:

My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.

The voice called, and I went.

I went, because the voice called.

Tags: Life in Israel

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