Long-lost Poem by War Heroine Hannah Szenes is Found

September 2, 2012
Hannah Szenes in a Hungarian army uniform as a Purim costume, 1944.

Born in Budapest on July 17, 1921, to a wealthy, distinguished, and assimilated Hungarian Jewish family, Hannah Szenes escaped the anti-Semitism she experienced in Hungary and joined a kibbutz at Caesarea in Palestine. In 1943, she was approached by Jewish Agency officials to join a clandestine military project that offered aid to beleaguered European Jewry. She trained as a wireless operator and as a paratrooper in preparation for her mission.

Hannah Szenes was one of 37 Jews from Mandatory Palestine parachuted by the British Army into Yugoslavia during the Second World War to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews about to be deported to the German death camp at Auschwitz. Szenes was arrested at the Hungarian border, then imprisoned and tortured, but refused to reveal details of her mission. When she was brought face-to-face with her mother, whom she had not seen in five years, both women refused to give any information to their captors.  Szenes was eventually tried and executed by firing squad November 7, 1944. After the war, her mother emigrated to Palestine and published her daughter’s diaries, poetry, and plays. Szenes is regarded as a national heroine in Israel, where her poetry is widely known and the headquarters of the Zionist youth movement Israel Hatzeira, a kibbutz, and several streets are named after her.

In 2012, a previously unknown poem, written in Hebrew, was discovered by Hannah Yasur, the daughter of the woman to whom it was sent. The poem, written from the perspective of an exile like Szenes, evokes feelings of solitude and the moment of almost grasping something, but having it evade your reach.

Hora to an Exiled Girl

A hora, roaring, tempestuous, blazes around me
With the mystery of rhythm, gladdening and forging,
It tugs at my body and heart
The foot marches, the back quivers, the song is ignited, a searing chorus
Dance and song, a wordless prayer,
Hail to the future, hail to creation

But then a figure flutters before my eyes
My arm has escaped my friends’ embrace
My heart spurns the tempestuous singing,
Far and near it consumes me whole

Blue eyes
Such a bewildered glance
A sad silence and a stubborn mouth
The stillness grows in me
I remain standing
Alone, in a crowd of a hundred, her and I

(Translation by Elie Leshem)

The following lines are from the last poem she wrote, "Ashrei Hagafrur", after she was parachuted into a partisan camp in Yugoslavia:

,אַשְׁרֵי הַגַּפְרוּר שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף וְהִצִּית לֶהָבוֹת

.אַשְׁרֵי הַלְּהָבָה שֶׁבָּעֲרָה בְּסִתְרֵי לְבָבוֹת

...אַשְׁרֵי הַלְבָבוֹת שֶׁיָדְעוּ לַחְדוֹל בְּכָבוֹד

.אַשְׁרֵי הַגַּפְרוּר שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף וְהִצִּית לֶהָבוֹת

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.

Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor's sake.

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

Sources: “September 2,” This Day in Jewish History; “Long-Lost Hannah Szenes Poem Comes to Light,” Times of Israel, September 2, 2012.


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My great-aunt, Marie Syrkin, was the translator of "Blessed is the Match" poem, some time before 1946. She also wrote a beautiful book, Blessed is the Match", which contains stories of heroism, including about Hannah Szenes. https://www.amazon.com/Blessed-Match-Story-Jewish-Resistance/dp/0827600….

I agree with Helen and Sheila: "ashrei" as in the prayer "ahrey ha'ish" (which Hannah Szenes probably knew) means happy/fortunate. "Blessed" is a drift from the primary meaning which, ever so slightly, places the origin of the happiness in someone else's hand, the one who is "blessing", or at least suggests a reward. The poem proposes no other reward than the very fact of doing the right thing, should we be blessed for it afterwards or not.

I really am grateful for the Jewish community and the fondness and the collection of true courage. I myself am a African American women of 62. I always been fond of history ever since I was little girl. It didn't matter to me about ethnicity as long the history is of a validity. So I cheer you on. Jwa.org💯👏

I agree with Helen about the translation of :Ashrei". Ithink the translation should be: fortunate. I think that Hanna believes that a person who is "burnt" by the passion to fulfill his ideals- is fortunate.

Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

Can we see this as she, being the match, is consumed/inspired by the work she is doing ?
Blessed is the flame that burns in the secret fastness of the heart.

This being the energy of her service to her people - her own dedication to the effort of saving Jews in her former country?
Blessed is the heart with strength to stop its beating for honor's sake.

She would give her life if need be for the pursuit of righteousness?
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame.

What is kindling flame? Fire that is started and supported by an ideal?

Doesn't ashrei more correctly mean "happy" or "fortunate"?  It's a stunnng poem as translated but somehow the other words convey more of a sense of pride


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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Long-lost Poem by War Heroine Hannah Szenes is Found." (Viewed on May 22, 2024) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/sep/02/2012/long-lost-poem-by-war-heroine-hannah-szenes-is-found>.