Hannah Szenes was a Special Operations Executive trained to rescue Jews during the Holocaust. She was one of 37 Jewish parachutists from the Mandate Palestine dropped by the British Army during the Second World War to assist in the rescue of Hungarian Jews who were about to be deported to Auschwitz.
She was born in Budapest on July 17, 1921, to a wealthy Hungarian Jewish family. Her father, Bela Szenes, was a well-known writer and journalist. She joined the Zionist movement and learned Hebrew when she was preparing herself for immigration to Palestine. She studied first at an agricultural school and then settled at Kibbutz Yam. While there she wrote poetry, as well as a play about kibbutz life.
In 1943, Hanna enlisted in the British Army in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Forces an Aircraftwoman 2nd Class and began her training in Egypt as a paratrooper for the British Special Operations Executive.
After crossing the Hungarian border (which was at the time occupied by the Germans) with her colleagues Yoel Palgi and Peretz Goldstein, she was arrested by Hungarian gendarmes, They found the British military transmitter she was carrying, which was used to communicate with the SEO and other partisans.
She was tortured cruelly and repeatedly over the next several months. In October 1944, at her trial, Szenes staunchly defended her activities and she refused to request clemency. She was executed on November 7 by a firing squad, she refused the blindfold, staring squarely at her executors and her fate. At the time of the execution, Szenes was 23 years old.
The remains of Hannah Szenes were brought to Israel in 1950. She was buried in the Israel National Military Cemetery on Mount Herzi in Jerusalem.
Hannah was also known as an exceptional poet. Her diary and her poems were published in Hebrew in 1945. She is a national heroine in Israel.