Hannah Szenes (1921-1944) was a Jewish Hungarian resistance fighter who was parachuted behind German lines in World War 2.
The child of a Jewish family in Hungary, Szenes showed a talent for writing from a young age. She was accepted into a Protestant private school, however in spite of a 'gifted student' discount she still had to pay double the regular fees because she was Jewish. Combined with her awareness of the worsening situation for Jews in Hungary, this led her to join Maccabea, a Hungarian Zionist youth movement.
In 1939 Szenes traveled to the British Mandate of Palestine where she studied agriculture and wrote poetry and plays about Kibbutz life. In 1941 she joined the Jewish paramilitary force Haganah and in 1943 volunteered to join the British Special Operations Executive to train as a paratrooper. After training in Egypt she was selected to take part in an operation to infiltrate German-occupied Europe and establish links with beleaguered Jewish communities.
On March 14th 1944 Szenes was parachuted into Yugoslavia along with two men, Yoel Palgi and Peretz Goldstein. Their mission was to enter Hungary and help save Hungarian Jews from being deported to the Auschwitz concentration camp. The team spent 3 months working with Yugoslavian partisans, during which they discovered that Hungary had been forcibly occupied by German forces in retaliation for attempting to surrender to the Allies. Faced with this new information Palgi and Goldstein decided to call off the mission. Szenes disagreed and pressed on to the Hungarian border alone, however not long after crossing she was arrested by Hungarian police.
Szenes was imprisoned and suffered a brutal interrogation by police who wanted to know the code for the radio transmitter she used to communicate with the partisans and the British. She was stripped, tied to a chair, and whipped and clubbed for 3 days. She lost several of her teeth. Yet she refused to surrender the code and so she was transferred to a Budapest prison where she continued to be tortured. Frustrated that she wouldn't break, the guards brought in her mother, who she had not seen for 5 years, and threatened her life. Despite this Szenes still refused to give up the code and eventually her mother was released.
Szenes spent the next three months in prison but was not idle. She communicated with other prisoners using a mirror to flash signals and used large cut-out letters to spell out messages in Hebrew. She often sang to keep up the spirits of the other prisoners. However in late October she was tried for treason and on November 7th 1944 she was executed by a German firing squad.
Following the end of the war, Szenes became widely known when her diary, poetry and plays were published. She was recognised as a national heroine of Israel and in 1950 her remains were reburied in the military cemetery on Mt Herzl in Jersualem.
One of the final entries in her diary contained a poem reading:
In the month of July I shall be twenty-three,
I played a number in a game,
The dice have rolled. I have lost.