Hannah Senesh archival treasures revealed by the National Library of Israel

August 1, 2021 by J-Wire Newsdesk
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In celebrating 100 years since the birth of iconic Jewish war hero and poet Hannah Senesh (Szenes), the National Library of Israel has digitized dozens of items from her recently acquired archive, many of them never previously available online.

Hannah Szenes passport

Despite her death at age 23, Hannah Senesh left behind a rich and important literary estate, which came to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem at the end of last year. Since that time, National Library experts have been working to catalogue, preserve and digitize the archive’s contents, which include manuscripts, notebooks, photos, documents, personal items and more.  Perhaps the two most moving items in the collection are a pair of notes found in Senesh’s dress following her execution: the last poem she ever wrote and a personal letter to her mother.

The Hannah Senesh Archival Collection includes: handwritten poems; personal diaries; a newspaper she edited at the age of 6 with her brother; extensive correspondence; photographs and personal documents from throughout her life; study materials; correspondence and documents related to the Kasztner affair; family documents going back to the 19th century, including materials from her father, the writer Bela Szenes; as well as personal items including the suitcase with which she moved to the Land of Israel, her personal typewriter and camera, and more.

Notable items that are now digitized include: her Hebrew vocabulary notebook with sketches and drawings; her Bat Mitzvah certificate; documents from her schools in Budapest and Nahalal (Mandatory Palestine); a notebook in which she recorded all of the books she read; her personal typewriter, camera, and a sewing box with her gloves and locks of her and her brother’s hair.

About Hannah Senesh

Hannah Senesh was born in Budapest in 1921. With antisemitism increasingly apparent, she became an active Zionist and immigrated to Mandatory Palestine in 1939. After studying at the Nahalal agricultural school for two years, she joined Kibbutz Sdot Yam, where she worked while writing poetry and even a play about life on the kibbutz. In 1943, she enlisted in the British army and volunteered to join a paratrooper unit tasked with parachuting into occupied Europe. The mission’s goals were to help Allied pilots who had fallen behind enemy lines flee to safety, and to work with partisan forces to rescue Jewish communities under Nazi occupation.

In March 1944, Hannah and three fellow paratroopers parachuted into Slovenia. On June 9, 1944, she was caught by the Hungarian police and imprisoned in Budapest. Despite being interrogated and tortured for months, and her mother being arrested as well, Hannah refused to cooperate with her captors. She was charged with spying and treason and sentenced to death. On November 7, 1944, Hannah Senesh was executed at the age of 23. In 1950 she was reinterred in Israel’s national military cemetery on Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem.

Hannah Senesh’s story and her poems – including “A Walk to Caesarea” (known popularly as “Eli, Eli” / “O Lord, My God”) – have made her into an iconic figure of modern Jewish, Israeli and Zionist culture.

Select digitized items from the Hannah Senesh Archival Collection at the National Library of Israel available for viewing and download here.

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