Hannah Senesh’s Last Note

“Dear mother, I don’t know what to tell you. I will only say this: A thousand thanks and more, and forgive me, if you can…"

Amit Naor
30.11.2020
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From the Hannah Senesh Collection

Anyone who even casually follows the course of Hannah Senesh’s life quickly discovers her biography’s common thread: Hannah Senesh (often spelled Szenes) never stopped writing. Even before she learned to write herself, she composed poems and stories. When she was a teenager, she was accepted to the literary council of her prestigious school (though she was forced her to give up her place due to antisemitism). From the moment she arrived in Mandatory Palestine, she wrote—first in Hungarian and then, very quickly, in Hebrew as well. She even continued writing when she returned to European soil, after embarking on the parachute mission from which she never returned.

In fact, Senesh continued writing until her final moments. She even wrote a poem while being held in her prison cell. The Hannah Senesh Collection at the National Library of Israel, however, preserves the very last lines she wrote in her lifetime. Following her execution, a tiny, brief note was found in her dress, written in Hungarian. It was addressed to her mother Katherine, as Hannah, who never stopped writing her whole life, finally chose to emphasize the value of silence:

Dear mother, I don’t know what to tell you. I will only say this: A thousand thanks and more, and forgive me, if you can. After all, you will understand, better than anyone else, that words are not necessary now. With great love, your daughter.

This note is now part of the Hannah Senesh Collection at the National Library of Israel.

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The last note written by Hannah Senesh. It was found in her dress following her execution. The Hannah Senesh Collection at the National Library of Israel

This was not the only note or letter that Hannah wrote while in Europe. Senesh left Palestine in January 1944. In March, she was flown to Italy, and shortly afterwards parachuted into Yugoslavia, into the heart of enemy territory. She wandered among the local partisan forces for about three months, waiting for an opportunity to continue her mission and infiltrate the country of her birth, Hungary. At the beginning of June 1944, the mission commanders thought the time had come—but Senesh was captured the same day, shortly after crossing the border. Charged with espionage, she spent the final five months of her life, until her execution, in prison.

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Hannah Senesh at the Nahalal Agricultural School for Girls, the Hannah Senesh Collection at the National Library of Israel

Over the years, stories have surfaced about what she managed to write during her months with the partisans and even during her imprisonment. One of these is the story of “Blessed Is the Match”, one of Senesh’s best-known poems. Senesh passed the note on which she wrote the four-line poem to her comrade Reuven Dafni, just before crossing into Hungary. Dafni recounted how she asked him to take the note in case she didn’t return from the mission, and how he threw it away, saying there was no chance she would not return. Fortunately, he went back to retrieve it. How exactly it made its way to Israel we do not know, but this is one of her last poems. The original note in Senesh’s handwriting is held at Kibbutz Lohamei Hageta’ot.

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The original handwritten Hebrew manuscript of “Blessed is the Match” (Ashrei HaGafrur), by Hannah Senesh

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.

 

In November 2020, the Senesh family decided to deposit the Hannah Senesh Collection in the National Library of Israel. The collection includes several more notes and letters that Senesh wrote after leaving the country for her dangerous mission. Among these are two notes Senesh sent to her mother Katherine and her brother Giora (George) on March 13th, 1944, two days before her jump. The two small notes were written in pencil in Hungarian. Senesh wrote to her mother, who was still in Budapest at the time:

My dear mother, in a few days I will be so close to you, yet at once also far away. Please forgive me and try to understand me. A million hugs. Anna.

She wrote the date at the bottom. On the back she wrote in Hebrew “To mother” and signed with her codename, Hagar.

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The note Hannah Senesh wrote to her mother Katherine, mere days before her parachute jump, the Hannah Senesh Collection at the National Library of Israel

These notes, along with other letters sent by Senesh during her time in Europe, form a sort of path by which we can trace the events of her final days, during her dangerous mission in Europe. Brief regards, a plea for forgiveness, even poems – Hannah Senesh wrote all of these during the last months of her life, until the very last moment.

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