Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary (Hanah Senesh: Yomanim, Shirim, Eduyot)

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HANNAH SENESH: HER LIFE AND DIARY (Hanah Senesh: Yomanim, Shirim, Eduyot)

Diary by Hannah Senesh, 1966

One of the most courageous tales to come out of the Holocaust was first published in Hebrew in 1966. It was Hanah Senesh: Yomanim, Shirim, Eduyot , which appeared in English in 1971 under the title Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary. The volume contains not only the diary of a girl from the time she was 13 almost until her death at 23 but also letters she wrote to her family from Palestine, many of her poems, and testimonies of people who knew her, including her mother. The diary shows that, for Hannah Senesh, growing into adulthood meant realizing her role in life as a Jew. Revealing a sense of responsibility for people and a devotion to family, the diary is characterized by a profound sense of destiny. "In my life's chain of events," Senesh wrote in one of her last entries, "nothing was accidental. Everything happened according to an inner need." These words become especially powerful in the light of the fate that befell their author. After parachuting behind enemy lines in a special unit of British-trained Israelis, she was captured and murdered by the Hungarians.

Reading the diary of Senesh, one is struck by the parallels between the historical developments of the period and the development of a remarkable young woman. In an entry dated 15 May 1937, she considered whether anti-Semitism had not made the Jews stronger, since it forced them to take on the strength to overcome even more obstacles. With the passage of more and more anti-Semitic legislation in Hungary in 1938, however, she believed that whatever strength the Jews might have acquired should be devoted to the Zionist movement rather than to trying to live in an anti-Semitic Christian Europe. On 17 October 1938, for example, she wrote, "One needs to feel that one's life has meaning, that one is needed in this world. Zionism fulfills all this for me." Once she moved to Israel in 1939, her sense of mission grew even deeper; indeed, in Israel she came to believe that "almost every life is the fulfillment of a mission."

Like many teens growing into adulthood, Hannah endured an identity crisis and experienced doubts about herself while she was in the very process of cultivating a deeper sense of meaning in her life. In an entry dated 12 April 1941, for example, she wrote, "I'm filled with discontent, hesitancy, insecurity, anxiety, lack of confidence. Sometimes I feel I am an emissary who has been entrusted with a mission." As her sense of mission grew, so did her sense of responsibility for the lives of others. In the entry dated 9 July 1941—just as the Nazi killing units were advancing on the Eastern Front—she asserted that she must do something "exerting, demanding, to justify" her existence. Therefore, she rejected the temptation "to seek personal happiness" and chose to find ways to join "the difficult and devastating war" for what was good for humanity.

Indeed, Senesh believed that "the world was created for good," but she understood this to mean not that people were good but that they must do good. This realization shifted her attention to her home in Hungary, where the situation of the Jews was growing more and more precarious. "I feel I must be there," she noted on 8 January 1943, "to help organize youth emigration, and also to get my mother out." Within a month of recording the entry she was training to join a military mission to the Balkans. "I see the hand of destiny in this," she said of her military assignment, "just as I did at the time of my Aliyah." Because she died in an effort to save the lives of Jews at a time when the world had generally turned its back on them, her destiny was to die as a Jew.

Just before she went into Nazi territory in Hungary, Senesh said farewell to her friend Reuven Dafne and gave him a slip of paper. "If I do not come back," she told him, "give this to our people." It was her best-known poem, "Blessed Is the Match," written on 2 May 1944, just after she and her comrades had landed in Yugoslavia. The poem ends with a line that best describes the life of Hannah Senesh: "Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame."

—David Patterson

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Hannah Senesh: Her Life and Diary (Hanah Senesh: Yomanim, Shirim, Eduyot)

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