This Yizkor (memorial) notice commemorates the death of a group of parachutists from the Yishuv (the Jewish residents of pre-State Palestine), including Hannah Senesh, who were killed in Europe during the Second World War. The notice was published in HaHoma, the underground newspaper distributed by the Haganah in Tevet 5706 (December 1945).
The notice opens with the words: “The nation of Israel will remember the pure souls of its sons and daughters” and then lists the names of six murdered paratroopers: Hannah Senesh, Peretz Goldstein, Haim Sereni, Haviva Martinowitz, Zvi Ben-Yaakov, Raphael Reiss, and Abba Berdichev. The notice ends with the statement that people must grieve yet be proud of those who went to fight the Nazis.
Between 1943 and 1945, many Jewish men and women from the Yishuv volunteered to join the British Army in their fight against the Nazis. A group of 250 soldiers volunteered to parachute into Nazi-occupied Europe and to organise the resistance against the Germans. Thirty-two Jewish soldiers, most originally from Europe, infiltrated enemy lines, landing in Hungary, Slovakia, Italy, Yugoslavia, Romania, Bulgaria, France, and Austria in 1944. Eventually, twelve of the parachutists were captured and seven executed.
The best known of them, Hannah Senesh, was captured in Hungary and executed in Budapest on November 7, 1944. Senesh was a very talented poet, and many of her poems were set to music and are still sung in Israel.
Anzio Sereni, a writer and Zionist leader born in Rome, was the organiser of the group. He was captured by the Nazis in Italy and sent to Dachau, where he was shot on November 18, 1944.
Haviva Martinowitz (née Reik) was born in Slovakia. She helped organise Jewish resistance in Slovakia and established a camp for Russian prisoners of war. She was captured and killed in November 1944.
Raphael Reiss, originally from Budapest, Hungary, immigrated to Israel in 1939, and in 1944 he parachuted into Yugoslavia in the first stage towards entering occupied Hungary. He joined forces with two other Israeli parachuters, Reik and Ben-Ya’akov, and when they were attacked by the SS in October 1944, Reiss was injured and captured. Despite being British soldiers, the Nazis did not treat Reiss, Reik, or Ben-Ya’akov as prisoners of war; Reiss and Reik were shot on November 20, 1944.
Zvi Ben-Ya’akov, captured together with Reik and Reiss, pretended to be a British officer and was sent to the Mauthausen camp where he was shot in December 1944.
Peretz Goldstein parachuted into Yugoslavia and managed to reach Budapest. He hid in the city, until he was persuaded to turn himself in to the Gestapo so as not to endanger his parents, who were to flee Hungary on a train organised by Yisrael Kastner. He died at the Oranienburg concentration camp in Germany.
Abba Berditchev was born in Romania and immigrated to Israel on an illegal boat in 1940. In 1943 he volunteered for the group of Israeli paratroopers and parachuted into Yugoslavia. Berditchev was ambushed by the Nazis on his way to Hungary and sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp where he was tortured and finally executed in January 1945.
After the Second World War, the remains of the seven executed volunteers were returned to Israel and buried in the National Military Cemetery at Mount Hertzl in Jerusalem. The seven were commemorated in many ways in Israel, including the establishment of kibbutzim bearing their names: Netzer Sireni, Yad Chana, Alonei Abba, and Givat Haviva.
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Hannah Szenes - 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.