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Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary

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Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary

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Hannah Senesh
Her Life and Diary

By Hannah Senesh
Foreword by Marge Piercy
Jewish Lights Publishing, 2009, 325 pages
ISBN: 978-1-58023-212-8

Reviewed by Israel Drazin - May 23, 2011

This very moving book contains the diary, letters, and selected poems of one of the State of Israel's heroes. Eight people add eight views about Hannah, her upbringing outside of Palestine, her strong attachment to the land of her ancestors, her travel to and work in Palestine, how and why she joined the British military, a nation who controlled Palestine before 1948, to fight against the Germans, how she parachuted into enemy lines in 1944 to help liberate captured British soldiers, was captured herself, tortured, and shot. She was the only female in the parachute group. People found it hard to believe that a woman would jump from a plane, especially into enemy lines. The Nazis caught her because of the behavior of a fellow soldier and they tortured her for long periods of time. "They asked her one thing, only one thing: what is your radio code? Hannah didn't reveal it." Her body was abused. Her eyes were blackened. There were ugly welts on her checks and neck. Some of her teeth were missing. She could hardly walk. But she refused to give up the code because it would have resulted in the death of many English soldiers.

She was born in Budapest on July 17, 1921, to a wealthy, distinguished, and acculturated Hungarian Jewish family. Her father was a well-known writer. She received a good education in Hungarian schools, but suffered anti-Semitism there. She was a natural leader. Her first grade teacher told her mother that when she had to leave the class, she would tell Hannah to sit in her chair and Hannah would tell the children stories while they listened in silence. She had a strong feeling for Jews. She told her mother that even if she was not born a Jew she would still help them, "by all possible means, a people who were being treated so unjustly now, and who had been abused so miserably throughout history. She arrived in what was then called Palestine in 1939, a name given to Israel by the Romans who attempted to erase all memory of Jews and Israel, when Hitler was trying to do the same, but more inhumanly.

On June 9, 1944, just before she parachuted into Nazi-controlled territory, she gave her friend a piece of paper. She said, "If I don't return, give this to our people. This friend writes: "It was 'Blessed Is the Match,' the poem every Israeli, young or old, can now recite from memory."

Blessed is the match consumed

in kindling flame.

Blessed is the flame that burns

in the secret fastness of the heart.

Blessed is the heart with strength to stop

its beating for honor's sake.

Blessed is the match consumed

in kindling flame.

In her final poem before her death, she wrote:

I gambled on what mattered most,

The dice were cast, I lost.

So she thought. But her body was brought to Israel in 1950 and reburied with honors in the "Parachutists section" of the military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem. She was "a modern-day Joan of Arc, the type of heroine who comes along once in a century bold, brilliant, and uncommonly courageous." She fought back.

Dr. Israel Drazin is the author of seventeen books, including a series of five volumes on the Aramaic translation of the Hebrew Bible, which he co-authors with Dr. Stanley M. Wagner, and a series of four books on the twelfth century philosopher Moses Maimonides. The Orthodox Union (OU) and Yeshiva University publish weekly chapters of Drazin and Wagner's book Let's Study Onkelos on and on His website is

The views expressed in this review/article are those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Jewish Eye.
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