November 7



Mis-spelled by the English as Hannah Senesh, she was already becoming well-known for her poetry, despite her considerable youth - she was born on July 17th 1921. Twenty-two when, in January 1944, she was sent as a member of an elite intelligence corps to Cairo, to be trained by the British in parachuting, sabotage and espionage, in preparation for a mission to join up with Yugoslav partisans close to the Hungarian border. 

Unfortunately she didn't last long on that mission; she was captured in possession of a radio transmitter, which left no room for doubt. Imprisoned and tortured, the Nazis even went so far as to open up a line of communication between Hannah and her mother, in the hope that emotional pressure would make her crack and reveal military information, particularly about the thirty colleagues who had parachuted into Yugoslavia with her. She never spoke, On November 7th 1944 she was shot by firing squad.

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 the sake of honour 
Blessed is the match consumed in kindling flame

אַשְׁרֵי הַגַּפְרוּר שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף וְהִצִּית לֶהָבוֹת
אַשְׁרֵי הַלְּהָבָה שֶׁבָּעֲרָה בְּסִתְרֵי לְבָבוֹת
אַשְׁרֵי הַלְבָבוֹת שֶׁיָדְעוּ לַחְדוֹל בְּכָבוֹד
אַשְׁרֵי הַגַּפְרוּר שֶׁנִּשְׂרַף וְהִצִּית לֶהָבוֹת

                                        Recited by every schoolchild in Israel
                                              on every Yom ha-Shoah

Above was the sentimental version, the one that history chooses to remember, though it omits key facts. And strangely, the omitted facts, when restored, accentuate the heroism rather more than the sentimentality, so why omit them?

* Hannah was herself Hungarian, born in Belgrade; she left Hungary for Palestine when she was 18, studied at agricultural school there, and became a member of Kibbutz Sdot Yam.

* It was as a member of the Haganah that she was sent to Cairo.

* The arrest happened twenty-six days after parachuting into Yugoslavia.

* She was not in fact in possession of the radio. She had buried it in the forest. The Germans had discovered it.

* Communication with her mother was face-to-face. Catherine Senesh had not seen Hannah since the start of the war and was herself arrested and brought, like Hannah, to Budapest for interrogation. Their communication took place through the bars of their cells, across a courtyard, by semaphore and gesture, until the guards ended the torture and allowed them to meet, while awaiting trial. Hannah used the time to teach her mother Hebrew and to write poetry.    

                                          One - two - three ... eight feet long
                                          Two strides across, the rest is dark ...
                                          Life hangs over me like a question-mark
                                          One - two - three ... maybe another week
                                          Or 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.

Found on the wall of her cell, after her execution

Like David Kanter in my novel "Going To The Wall", one can be both a famous poetess and a very indifferent poet, a famous and worthy heroine and still an abject failure.

Eli, Eli, she lo yigamer le’olam
Hachol ve hayam, rishro'ash shel ha mayim
Berah ha shamayim, tephilat ha adam

 You can hear a rendition of Eli, Eli by clicking here

Amber pages

Albert Camus, French novelist and philosopher, born today in 1913

Joni Mitchell (Roberta Joan Anderson), born today in 1943

The last person to be publicly burned by the Spanish Inquisition went to the holocaust, in Sevilla, today in 1783

The Canadian Pacific Transcontinental Railway was completed, today in 1885

Photographs taken by Voyager I, today in 1980, enabled scientists to identify 95 separate Saturn rings (the illustration above us from the NASA website, and is, apparently, a "highly enhanced color view of Saturn's rings assembled from clear, orange and ultraviolet frames" - so they don't really look like this, except as Art - I am going to make that painting!)

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