IS THIS BOOK FOR YOUR GROUP?
Would your group like to explore the life of Hannah Senesh, poet and Israel’s national heroine, and how her story has something of value to teach everyone? This inspiring work will inspire your group to follow your own inner voices, just as she followed hers.
6 x 9, 368 pp
b/w photos, Paperback, 978-1-58023-342-2
Hero Martyr Poet
The inspiring story of a remarkable life cut short.
“I don’t think Hannah wanted to die for the sake of having her memory exalted in history or to prove herself equal to a romantic image she conceived for herself. Her purpose wasn’t to die. She died for her life’s purpose.”
—U.S. Senator John McCain, in Why Courage Matters
Hannah Senesh, poet and Israel’s national heroine, has come to be seen as a symbol of Jewish heroism. Safe in Palestine during World War II, she volunteered for a mission to help rescue fellow Jews in her native Hungary. She was captured by the Nazis, endured imprisonment and torture, and was finally executed at the age of twenty-three.
Like Anne Frank, she kept a diary from the time she was thirteen. This new edition brings together not only the widely read and cherished diary, but many of Hannah’s poems and letters, memoirs written by Hannah’s mother, accounts by parachutists who accompanied Hannah on her fateful mission, and insightful material not previously published in English.
Described by a fellow parachutist as a “spiritual girl guided almost by mysticism,” Hannah’s life has something of value to teach everyone. Now the subject of a feature-length documentary, Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, Hannah’s words and actions will inspire people from each generation to follow their own inner voices, just as she followed hers.
“A powerful book by a young woman who was and remains a true hero to many people. She had much to teach the world when she lived. She has even more to teach it now.”
—Deborah E. Lipstadt, PhD, director, Tam Institute for Jewish Studies, Emory University
“Her life is an offering, her words a poem, her story an inspiration.”
“Contributes to [your] understanding of and appreciation for Hannah Senesh’s intrepid valor.”
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- Hannah has been called a Zionist Joan of Arc, implying that she was driven by a faith in Israel’s destiny that was so absolute and unyielding that it might have been imbued by divine revelation. Yet in her diary entry of January 8, 1943, when she first conceived her plan of returning to Hungary, and in many of the entries that follow, she writes of her intense loneliness, of her boredom and restlessness, of her guilt about leaving her mother behind when she emigrated to Israel and of her desire to secure her mother’s safety.
Why did Hannah return to Hungary? What do you think impelled Hannah more, the personal or the universal? Why?
- John McCain, who as a young man was imprisoned and tortured as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, writes in his book Why Courage Matters,
It seems [Hannah] had a chance to survive. Neither her mission nor the people she had come to rescue would have been any the worse for it. She was not asked, at least not in advance of requesting clemency, to betray a confidence or inform on her comrades. Did she really need to accept martyrdom for her cause? McCain contrasts Hannah’s sacrifice with that of a soldier who spontaneously throws himself on a grenade to save his comrades, or to a religious martyr, who dies for “the sake of something encompassing but also surpassing human suffering,” concluding finally that she might have chosen to die for the sake of her “dignity and sense of honor.”
Why do you think Hannah choose martyrdom?
- "I don’t think Hannah wanted to die for the sake of having her memory exalted in history or to prove herself equal to a romantic image she conceived for herself,” McCain continues. “Her heroism wasn’t a fashion. She made a choice to be heroic, but to be heroic in order to be true. Her purpose wasn’t to die. She died for her life’s purpose.”
What do you think Hannah’s “life’s purpose” was?
- On April 12, 1941, more than three years before she died, Hannah presaged her own fate:
Sometimes I feel I am an emissary who has been entrusted with a mission. What this mission is—is not clear to me. (After all, everyone has a mission in life.) I feel I have a duty toward others, as if I were obligated to them. At times this appears to be all sheer nonsense, and I wonder why all this individual effort ... and why particularly me? Much has been made of the courageous way that Hannah died. Was Hannah’s mission ultimately fulfilled by her murder, as a match’s purpose is by its own immolation, or would she have been a hero even if she hadn’t returned to Hungary?
- What do you think mattered most to Hannah?
- On April 23, 1941, when the Nazis overran Yugoslavia, Hannah contemplated the horrible possibility that Palestine, too, would suffer the same fate. She expresses her hope that her people would face such a catastrophe with honor. But then she asks, “What is a heroic death? To consecrate God’s name? Is it possible to consecrate God’s name in a manner divorced from life itself? Is there anything more holy than life itself?” In her final poem, composed literally moments before her death, she wrote, “I gambled on what mattered most, The dice were cast, I lost.”
Though she had been prepared to die, do you think she expected to?
- On March 6, 1940, writing in her diary of the imminent likelihood of an uprising against the British rulers of Palestine, eighteen-year old Hannah declared,
I don’t know what it is within me—love for the land and the people, or horror of all wars, or perhaps a point of view that belongs in another world—but I still condemn any step that leads to hopeless, unnecessary bloodshed.... As far as I’m concerned, I think they ought to build with greatly renewed energy within the designated areas, and then, when the existing lands are irrevocably in our hands, and if the British political situation does not change meanwhile—then if we still must fight, we can do so with guns. If Hannah had lived, she would be in her 80s. What do you think she would make of the situation in Israel today? about the “Palestinian question”?
- On September 18, 1936, when the precocious Hannah Senesh was all of fifteen years old, she wrote,
I am not quite clear just how I stand: synagogue, religion, the question of God. About the last and most difficult question I am the least disturbed. I believe in God—even if I can’t express just how. Actually I’m relatively clear on the subject of religion, too, because Judaism fits in best with my way of thinking. But the trouble with the synagogue is that I don’t find it at all important, and I don’t feel it to be a spiritual necessity; I can pray equally well at home. What do you think her “spiritual necessities” were?
- Four years later, on November 2, 1940, she wrote,
I was never able to pray in the usual manner, by rote, and even now neither can nor want to. But the dialogue man holds with his Creator ... is what I, too, have found. I see the sincere, inner link, even if it comes through struggle within myself and through some doubt. What do you think she had found in her spiritual life?
- What do you think Hannah’s weaknesses were?
- What traits of Hannah’s would you most like to develop in your own life?
Eitan Senesh is Hannah Senesh’s nephew and chairman of The Hannah Senesh Legacy Foundation, whose aim is to perpetuate the memory of Hannah Senesh and her comrades.
Marge Piercy is the author of sixteen novels including Gone to Soldiers; He, She and It; Three Women; and most recently The Third Child. Her memoir is called Sleeping with Cats. She has also written sixteen volumes of poetry including The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems with a Jewish Theme and most recently Colors Passing Through Us. She received an honorary doctorate degree from Hebrew Union College for her contributions to Jewish culture and liturgy.
Roberta Grossman, director of Blessed Is the Match: The Life and Death of Hannah Senesh, is a producer at Katahdin Productions, a nonprofit documentary company based in Berkeley and Los Angeles, California. For more information or to purchase Blessed Is the Match visit: www.blessedisthematch.com.