In 1944, the Jewish paratrooper Hannah Szenes (pronounced Senesh) parachuted into occupied Europe as part of a desperate attempt by the British military and the Jewish community in Israel to save Hungarian Jews from the Nazi death camps. She was captured, tortured and executed, and later her story and her poems – most notably “A Walk to Caesarea” (“Eli, Eli” — “My God, my God”) – turned Szenes into an iconic figure of modern Jewish, Israeli and Zionist culture.
A year after her execution, a soldier in the British Army’s Jewish Brigade named Moshe Braslavski returned to Hannah’s room in Kibbutz Sdot Yam where he found a suitcase full of previously unknown letters, diaries, songs, and poems under her bed. This discovery and the subsequent publication of some of her work is what made Szenes’s literary contributions known to the world.
After the war, her mother Katherine came to Mandatory Palestine, bringing with her more of Hannah’s writings and personal items, which had been kept in the family’s home in Budapest. Katherine received the materials from the kibbutz, and she kept the complete archival collection in her apartment in Haifa. Following Katherine’s death in 1992 and the death of Hannah’s brother Giora in 1995, the materials were passed down to Giora’s sons, Eitan and David, who used them to venerate Hannah’s memory and legacy. Eitan also worked to manage, catalog, translate and preserve the literary estate.
Over the past year, Ori and Mirit Eisen from Arizona, USA, have graciously enabled the transfer of the complete Hannah Senesh Archival Collection to the National Library of Israel in Jerusalem, where it will be made available to the public and safeguarded alongside the personal papers of other leading cultural figures including Martin Buber, Franz Kafka and Naomi Shemer. According to the Eisen family, “the Hannah Szenes Archive is a national treasure and it is a blessing to preserve it for the Jewish people and the world at large. We are happy to have had the privilege to help.”
Despite her death at age 23, Hannah Szenes left behind a rich literary legacy, including manuscripts, photos, and documents.
The Hannah Szenes Archival Collection includes handwritten poems; personal diaries; a newspaper she edited at the age of 6; extensive correspondence; photographs and personal documents from her life; study materials; the minutes of her trial; correspondence and documents related to the Kastner 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 made aliyah, and her typewriter and camera.
Perhaps the two most moving items in the collection are a pair of notes found in her dress following her execution: the last poem she ever wrote and a personal letter to her mother.