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Hannah Senesh, Executed by Nazis, a Heroine in London

Hannah Senesh, who was executed on Nov. 7, 1944 at the age of 23 by a Nazi firing squad in Budapest, has become a heroine here. “The Diary of Hannah Senesh,” published by Vallentine and Mitchell, is getting unprecedented pre-publication publicity. Last Saturday. The Guardian devoted an entire page, replete with photographs, to her life and work. The book was also singled out by other London newspapers, including The Times. A British film company was reported to have bought the film rights. The Evening Guardian, commenting on the publicity, stated: “A little publicized war heroine who like Anne Frank, wrote a diary at the age of 13 and, like Violette Szabo, died before a Nazi firing squad, is suddenly being introduced to Britain with all the glamour of her better known contemporaries.” Hannah Senesh was born in Budapest. Growing up in a thoroughly assimilated middle class Jewish family, she emigrated to Palestine in her teens when she became aware of anti-Semitism in Hungary. The first entry in her diary concerning Zionism, made in 1938, stated: “Faith is necessary to a person and it is vital that he should feel that his life is not worthless and empty; that he fulfills a task. All this, Zionism gives me. The opposition that I hear does not deter me. I believe in the realization of Zionism, the only solution to the Jewish problem.”

Imbued with a keen awareness of the plight of European Jewry, she became part of a group of 32. Palestinian Jews trained as parachutists by the British Army to work in intelligence behind Nazi lines. The volunteers were instructed that their first duty was to acquire and transmit the information needed by British and American forces. These young people had volunteered their services in the hope of taking part in rescue operations of Jews trapped in Europe. Hannah Senesh was captured by the Nazis when she returned to Hungary with the aid of Tito’s partisans after parachuting into Yugoslavia. A Hungarian peasant in the village she entered reported her. Even when captured and facing torture she refused to disclose any information. She faced the firing squad as she faced life–with her blue eyes open. She refused to let her executioners cover her eyes and would not let them break her will. One of the entries in her diary, which she began at the age of 13 and continued until her death, compared the Jewish people to a stack of hay in the fields of Sdot Yam, her kibbutz. She wrote: “All that remains outside the stack will be gone with the winds. So with our people, Israel, after this harvest.”

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