17 VII 1921, Budapest — 7 XI 1944, Budapest prison

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Biography

Hanna Szenes was a poet, writing in Hebrew and Hungarian. Motivated by her Zionist convictions, she immigrated to Palestine, but returned to Europe as a soldier. Her poems are still read and sung in Israel today.

She was born on 17 July 1921 in Budapest, to a wealthy family of assimilated Jews. Her father, Béla Szenes, a writer and playwright, died when Hanna was six years old. She attended a private Protestant school for girls and at that time became interested in Zionism. In 1939, she immigrated to Palestine.

Hanna completed a two-year course in agriculture and joined the Sdot Yam kibbutz in Caesarea. She was a member of the Haganah, a secret Jewish paramilitary organisation which was founded in Palestine, in 1920. In 1943, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force of Great Britain, and in 1944, she parachuted into Yugoslavia with other volunteers to aid partisan troops to save European Jews. They were forced to postpone their plans when Germany invaded Hungary, in March 1944. When they finally crossed the border, they were captured by Hungarian gendarmes. They regarded Hannah as a British spy and repeatedly interrogated and tortured her in a Budapest prison. In November 1944, she was brought before a court and sentenced to death by shooting. Her remains were brought to Israel in 1950.

Hannah started writing poetry relatively early, but her work was first discovered after her death. For the Israelis, she has become a symbol of sacrifice and fortitude. Her poetry has been read and sung by the greatest artists of popular music (including Ofra Haza), and she herself has become the heroine of numerous films and literary works. Hannah’s most famous poem, Halich le-Kejsarja (“Walk to Caesarea”), is also known as Eli, Eli (“My God, My God”). She kept a diary during the war in which every day she recorded her thoughts up to the last moments of her life. It was first published in Hebrew in 1946.

Voice: Klaudia Waszak
acc: Tomasz Kaczmarek

 

A Walk to Caesarea
Translated from Hebrew by Vivian Eden, published in Haaretz on 24 February 2015 („Poem of the Week: My God, May This Wonder Never End”).

My God, may it never end
the sea and the sand,
the splash of the water,
the brilliance of the sky
the prayer of man.

Hanna Szenes was a poet, writing in Hebrew and Hungarian. Motivated by her Zionist convictions, she immigrated to Palestine, but returned to Europe as a soldier. Her poems are still read and sung in Israel today.

She was born on 17 July 1921 in Budapest, to a wealthy family of assimilated Jews. Her father, Béla Szenes, a writer and playwright, died when Hanna was six years old. She attended a private Protestant school for girls and at that time became interested in Zionism. In 1939, she immigrated to Palestine.

Hanna completed a two-year course in agriculture and joined the Sdot Yam kibbutz in Caesarea. She was a member of the Haganah, a secret Jewish paramilitary organisation which was founded in Palestine, in 1920. In 1943, she joined the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force of Great Britain, and in 1944, she parachuted into Yugoslavia with other volunteers to aid partisan troops to save European Jews. They were forced to postpone their plans when Germany invaded Hungary, in March 1944. When they finally crossed the border, they were captured by Hungarian gendarmes. They regarded Hannah as a British spy and repeatedly interrogated and tortured her in a Budapest prison. In November 1944, she was brought before a court and sentenced to death by shooting. Her remains were brought to Israel in 1950.

Hannah started writing poetry relatively early, but her work was first discovered after her death. For the Israelis, she has become a symbol of sacrifice and fortitude. Her poetry has been read and sung by the greatest artists of popular music (including Ofra Haza), and she herself has become the heroine of numerous films and literary works. Hannah’s most famous poem, Halich le-Kejsarja (“Walk to Caesarea”), is also known as Eli, Eli (“My God, My God”). She kept a diary during the war in which every day she recorded her thoughts up to the last moments of her life. It was first published in Hebrew in 1946.

17 VII 1921, Budapest — 7 XI 1944, Budapest prison

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