This week I wrote a review of the Hannah Senesh exhibit at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. A wealthy Jewish girl from Hungary, Senesh immigrated to Palestine in 1939, when she was 17. After a few years there, however, she felt isolated from world events: put simply, the war in Europe. So when the British organized a Jewish brigade in Palestine to help them rescue Allied forces caught behind enemy lines, she signed on.
She was eventually captured on a mission in Hungary, on her way to find her mother. She was ordered executed by firing squad and was killed on November 7, 1944. She was 23.
Read my story for a fuller picture of her life, but if time is short, at least spend a couple minutes reading what she’s most famous for: her poems. Written while in Hungary, Palestine, and even in prison, it’s Senesh’s visionary, pained and sometimes ecstatic voice that made her much more than a war hero. She has become the conscience of a people.
"Eli, Eli," written in 1942 while in Palestine; her most famous poem.
My God, My God, I pray that these things never end,
The sand and the sea,
The rustle of the waters,
Lightning of the Heavens,
The prayer of Man.
The voice called, and I went.
I went, because the voice called.
"One, Two, Three," written in 1944 in her cell, not long after being captured in Hungary.
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.