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        Miriam's Cup: Biography

Hannah Szenes

O Lord, My G-d,
I pray that these things never end.
The sand and the sea,
The rush of the Water,
The crash of the heavens,
The prayer of woman and man.

"Eli, Eli," a poem written by Hannah Szenes, has become a folk song and modern prayer made famous, in part, because of her courage and dignity in the face of death.

Hannah Szenes (pronounced "Senesh") was born in Budapest in 1921. Her father, a well-known writer, died when she was six. Hannah and her brother, George, were raised in a middle-class, assimilated home by their mother, Catherine. Although Judaism was not emphasized in her home life, Hannah's diary entries show that she was very concerned about the rising antisemitism in Europe. Hannah was a brilliant student, at the top of her high school class. But because of discrimination against the Jews in Hungary, she would have to convert to Christianity in order to continue her education at the university. Instead, both Hannah and her brother became Zionists and immigrated to Israel. Hannah enrolled in an agricultural school and joined kibbutz Sdot Yam two years later. She began to demonstrate literary talent by writing poetry and plays in Hebrew.

When World War II broke out in Europe, Hannah was deeply concerned about the welfare of Europe's Jews, including her remaining family in Budapest. She enlisted in the Jewish Brigade of the British army and volunteered to join a small, select group of paratroopers who were dropped behind enemy lines in Europe. Her goal was to contact and aid the remaining Jews in Hungary. In March, 1944, she was parachuted into Yugoslavia. At the height of deportation of the Hungarian Jews, Hannah crossed the Hungarian border but was captured almost immediately. Although tortured severely and repeatedly, she refused to divulge any information. She was executed 5 months later, refusing the blindfold and staring squarely at the firing squad. Hannah Szenes was 23 years old.

In 1950, Hannah Szenes' remains were re-buried on Mount Herzl in Jerusalem. Her diary and many of her literary works have been published, some set to music, including the poem she wrote shortly before her death, "Blessed is the Match."

Blessed is the match that burned and kindled flames,
Blessed is the flame that set hearts on fire.
Blessed are the hearts that knew how to die with honor,
Blessed is the match that burned, and kindled flames.