Encyclopedia Womannica

Mavericks & Legends: Hannah Senesh

Episode Summary

Hannah Senesh (1921-1944) was a legendary poet and national hero who parachuted into enemy territory during WWII to rescue Jews from the Holocaust. Though captured and killed by the Nazis, she remains a symbol of idealism and self-sacrifice.

Episode Notes

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Every weekday, listeners explore the trials, tragedies, and triumphs of groundbreaking women throughout history who have dramatically shaped the world around us. In each 5 minute episode, we’ll dive into the story behind one woman listeners may or may not know -- but definitely should. These diverse women from across space and time are grouped into easily accessible and engaging monthly themes like Pioneers, Dreamers, Villainesses, STEMinists, Warriors & Social Justice Warriors, and many more. Encyclopedia Womannica is hosted by WMN co-founder and award-winning journalist Jenny Kaplan. The bite-sized episodes pack painstakingly researched content into fun, entertaining, and addictive daily adventures.

Encyclopedia Womannica was created by Liz Kaplan and Jenny Kaplan, executive produced by Jenny Kaplan, and produced by Liz Smith, Cinthia Pimentel, Grace Lynch, and Maddy Foley. Special thanks to Shira Atkins, Edie Allard, and Luisa Garbowit. Theme music by Andi Kristins. 

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Episode Transcription

Hello, from Wonder Media Network I’m Jenny Kaplan and this is Encyclopedia Womannica. 

Today’s fearless woman is both a maverick and a legend. A national heroine in Israel, she parachuted into enemy territory to liberate Jews during the Holocaust, looking death in the eye.

Let’s talk about Hannah Senesh. 

Hannah Senesh was born in 1921 in Budapest, Hungary. The daughter of an author and journalist, Hannah grew up in a literary household. She routinely kept journals of her own from age 13 right up to her death. 

In the 1930s, as Semitic sentiments were burgeoning in Budapest, Hannah was drawn to Zionist activities and in 1939 left Hungary for what was then Palestine. . 

There, she first attended an agricultural school and eventually settled at Kibbutz Sdot Yam, where she wrote poetry and a play about life on the kibbutz. 

In 1943, at the height of World War II, Hannah enlisted with the British Army and volunteered to be a paratrooper. The mission was to help the Allied forces establish contact with resistance fighters in Europe who were also working to help the Jews. Hannah trained in Egypt and was one of only 33 people chosen to parachute behind enemy lines. 

Hannah parachuted into Yugoslavia in March of 1944, and began working with the Yugoslav Partisans. A communist-led resistance to the Axis powers, the Partisans were considered among Europe’s most effective anti-Nazi resistance groups. Her fervor and passion for the movement were captured in her poem, “Blessed is the Match” which she wrote during her time in Yugoslavia. 

After three months with the partisans, Hannah crossed into Hungary in June of 1944 -- at the height of deportation for Hungary Jews -- with the goal of reaching her native Budapest. 

She didn’t make it. 

Hannah was quickly picked up by the Hungarian police, who were faithful to the Nazi party, and held in captivity. Despite being repeatedly tortured, Hannah declined to give up information pertaining to her mission. Even when the police threatened to harm Hannah’s own mother, she held steadfast in her resistance and refused to cooperate. During Hannah’s trial in October of 1944, she would not appeal for mercy and instead defended her actions at every turn. 

On November 7, 1944 Hannah was ordered to be executed by firing squad. 

In the moments leading up to her death, she refused the blindfold that was offered to her and instead chose to stare squarely into the eyes of her executioners. She was only 23 years old. 

After her execution, a poem was found in Hannah’s cell. It read:

One - two - three... eight feet long

Two strides across, the rest is dark...

Life is a fleeting question mark

One - two - three... maybe another week.

Or the next month may still find me here,

But death, I feel is very near.

I could have been 23 next July

I gambled on what mattered most, the dice were cast. I lost.

Hannah’s life was brief, but her impact on the world lasted long past her untimely death. Her diary and poems were published posthumously, and several of her poems have been set to music.

In 1950, Hannah’s remains were brought to Jerusalem and re-interred at the military cemetery on Mount Herzl. 

To this day, Hannah, remains a symbol of self-sacrifice and idealism in the face of dire circumstance. 

All May, we’re talking about Mavericks and Legends. 

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Talk to you tomorrow!