Long-lost poem by war heroine Hannah Szenes is found.

September 2, 2012

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.

 

2 Comments

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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

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

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Long-lost poem by war heroine Hannah Szenes is found.." (Viewed on September 18, 2019) <https://jwa.org/thisweek/sep/02/2012/long-lost-poem-by-war-heroine-hannah-szenes-is-found>.

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