Hannah Senesh

Commentary by Dr. Gerhard Falk


Hannah Senesh (1921-1944)

There are among us Jews a few whose heroism and courage cannot be measured and who are nevertheless generally unknown among us.

It is part of anti-Jewish folklore that Jews are cowards who cannot fight and that Jews walked silently into the gas ovens without resistance. Unfortunately there are too many Jews who have adopted these hateful images for themselves and repeat them in the form of jokes and anecdotes reflecting an unseemly self-demeaning stance.

Yet, anyone who knows the story of Hannah Senesh can see that the exact opposite is the case. Even before the people of Israel showed the haters that they will defend their lives, even before the regaining of Israel’s independence in 1948, even before Israel defeated the killers in 1949, in 1956, in 1973 and now there were Jews willing to fight and die for Israel.

One of these was Hannah Senesh who was born in Buda-Pest, Hungary. Her father was a journalist and playwright and, as is still so true of so many Jews, a diploma chaser. When Hannah was only six years old, her father died.

Hungary, like all European countries then and now, practiced anti-Judaism as a government policy. Not only the Night of the Crystal Glass or Kristallnacht but also the announcement by the Hungarian government that they would side with Germany in case of war led Hannah to immigrate to Israel in 1938. The Kristallnacht, which marked the burning of all synagogues in Germany and Austria, occurred right “next door” to Hungary and drove many Jewish refugees into Buda-Pest. These Jews told horror stories of German/Austrian atrocities committed on November 9-10 and thereafter. And so Hannah went to Nahalal in Israel and learned agriculture. Thereafter she joined Kibbutz S’dot Yam in Caesarea.

In June of 1942, the German army under Rommel had advanced to El Alamein in Egypt and threatened to invade Israel. Fortunately, the Germans lost. Numerous Israelis fought in that battle with the British against the Germans. These examples led Hannah Senesh to volunteer for the Haganah, or Jewish Defense Army, in 1943.

Hearing about the horrors of the European holocaust from refugees, Hannah Senesh repeatedly asked the British to equip her to enter occupied Europe and do whatever was needed to save at least some of the Jews in danger there. It took some time to convince the British to allow some Jews to return to their European native lands and help underground resistance and to organize escape routes for British airmen who had been shot down over Europe. Therefore, in January of 1944, Hannah Senesh and 31 other Jewish fighters were sent to parachute school in Egypt. There they also learned how to sabotage, infiltrate and spy on the Nazi killers. In June of 1944, Hannah Senesh was parachuted into Yugoslavia where she met with underground Hungarian partisans.

Shortly thereafter she was captured by the Nazis. She was imprisoned and brutally tortured but revealed no military information. She was finally murdered by the Germans on November 7, 1944 at the age of 23. In 1950, her remains were buried in Israel.

Hannah Senesh is of course not the only Jewish patriot but her martyrdom must not be forgotten any more than we must forget Jonathan Pollard who has been unjustly imprisoned since 1986. Pollard was a Naval Intelligence Analyst who recognized that Iraq was arming itself with weapons of mass destruction. He gave that information to our government and to the government of Israel. In light of our current offensive against Iraq it seems preposterous to imprison Pollard for life because he warned this government and Israel of the Iraqi threat. Yet, this is exactly why Pollard has been in prison all these years.

Unfortunately, the Jewish community, seldom ready to defend its own, has done little to stand up for this modern-day American Dreyfus. There can be little question that if Pollard were an Irish Catholic, an Armenian or a Hottentot the Jewish community would rise in anger against the bigotry which led to Pollard’s conviction. Pollard is a political prisoner and should be released and given compensation for the years of suffering imposed on him because he is a Jew. If that is not done, then who can say who among us will be next on the list of the witch hunters? 

Shalom u’vracha.

Dr. Gerhard Falk is the author of numerous publications, including Grandparents:  A New Look at the Supporting Generation (with Dr. Ursula A., Falk, 2002), & Man's Ascent to Reason (2003).

Home ] Up ]