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Chana Szenes

Chana Szenes

 The Match That Burns Forever

Chana Szenes, who was born in Budapest on July 17, 1921, led a short but eventful life. Both her parents were well-educated; her father, a journalist and author died when she was just 6 years old. Towards the end of her high school years, she experienced anti-Semitism and the tightening of the restrictions placed on Hungarian Jews. The result was her desire to make aliya and take part in the Zionist enterprise of nation building. Indeed, in 1939, she traveled to Palestine and spent two years in training at the agricultural school in Nahalal. Later she became a founding member of Kibbutz Sdot Yam.
However, Szenes's Zionism and move to Palestine did not diminish her awareness of what was happening in Europe, particularly in her native Hungary. Szenes felt compelled to join the struggle against the Nazis. In 1943 she volunteered for the British army. Her background, formidable courage and iron will made her well-suited to participate in one of the most clandestine and dangerous initiatives of the British and the Hebrew settlement in Eretz-Israel: the parachuting of soldiers behind German lines in order to gather intelligence and try to work with the anti-Nazi underground in order to save Jews. For Szenes, as a Hungarian Jew, the noose tightening around the Jews of her homeland was added incentive to volunteer for this dangerous mission.
 
In March 1944, Szenes and her comrades parachuted into Yugoslavia, close to the Hungarian border. The paratroopers worked with Partisans in Croatia and in June 1944, Szenes crossed the border into Hungary. She was captured immediately by the Hungarians and sent to Budapest for interrogation. Despite being subjected to harsh torture, Szenes refused to divulge information about the mission or her comrades. She was tried for treason in Hungary and, in November 1944, while the legal proceedings were still underway, she was executed in a Budapest prison.
 
Szenes was an accomplished poet and author and kept a personal journal until the day she died. After her death, poems she had written came to light, and two of these became veritable icons of Hebrew song and Israeli culture: "Ashrei hagafrur - Blessed is the Match" and "Halicha Lekesarya - Walk to Caesarea". Szenes was also a prolific letter writer, even in the days when her command of Hebrew was lacking. She even produced was a play called "The Violin" about life on the kibbutz.  Szenes continued writing in Hungarian. Her poems were eventually collected and translated into Hebrew. Hannah Szenes's remains were brought to Israel in 1950 and interred on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. In 2007, her tombstone was moved from the Jewish cemetery in Budapest to the cemetery on her kibbutz, Sdot Yam.
 
In the context of Israeli culture, Chana Szenes is perceived as a symbolic figure, representative of heroism and selfless devotion. Her literary talents are no less appreciated; the few works she left us are vital parts of Israel culture to this day, beloved in their own right, and not merely because of Szenes's lifestory and tragic end. The character of Chana Szenes has been featured in novels, plays and films, and yet her two poems, "Ashrei hagafrur" and "Halicha Lekesarya," stand out, having been set to music by David Zehavi and Abraham Daus and performed by the finest artists over the three generations since her death in 1944.
 
The National Library houses Chana Szenes's letters in Hebrew, a letter she wrote to her mother in Hungarian, the manuscripts of her poems, postcards and letters she wrote, and manuscripts of melodies for "Ashrei Hagafrur" and "Halicha Lekesarya".
חומרי חנה סנש בספרייה הלאומית
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  • "Eli, Shelo Yigamer Le'olam" (My God, May it Never End), Poems and Journal Excerpts
  • "Hakinor" (The Violin), A play about life in the kibbutz
  • "Lelo Safa" (Without Language), Translation of songs by Chana Szenes from Hungarian, translated by A. Yauz-Kast
  • The works of Chana Szenes translated to Spanish, cover
  • The works of Chana Szenes translated to Spanish, front page
  • The works of Chana Szenes, Hungarian edition, cover
  • The works of Chana Szenes, Hungarian edition, back cover
  • "The Life, Mission, and Death of Chana Szenes", edited by M. Barslevski
  • Chana Szenes manuscript, "La'achim"
  • Chana Szenes manuscript, "Lamut"
  • Chana Szenes manuscript, "Aliya Le'kesarya"
  • Chana Szenes manuscript, "Ginossar"
  • Chana Szenes letter to Miriam, page 1
  • Chana Szenes letter to Miriam, page 2
  • Chana Szenes letter to Miriam, page 3
  • Chana Szenes letter to Miriam, page 4
  • Letter from Chana Szenes to her mother, in Hungarian
  • Letter from Chana Szenes to her mother, in Hungarian, page 2
  • Postcard from Chana Szenes to George, page 1
  • Postcard from Chana Szenes to George, page 2